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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Assisted Suicide Issue Moving in U.S. Senate


At today's hearing, a panel of medical professionals weighed in on both sides of the highly controversial issue. Walter Hunter, MD, a physician with VistaCare Hospice, testified, "Nothing in this bill frightens me that I will become a 'target' of the DEA. The legislation is a timely, necessary, and explicit clarification."

But Kathleen Foley, MD, from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, contended that the bill would increase federal regulation of medical practice. She claimed, "A strict regulatory environment negatively impacts physician prescribing practices and leads them to intentionally undertreat patients with pain because of concern of regulatory oversight."

Arthur Caplan, PhD, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics, tells WebMD, "The bill really is about physician-assisted suicide, not pain control. There is a pittance of money in the bill to do something about pain control -- it doesn't show a true commitment. This is Congress reacting in abhorrence to what took place in Oregon."

Medical groups supporting the bill include the American Medical Association, the National Hospice Organization, the Hospice Association of America, the American Academy of Pain Management, and American Society of Anesthesiologists.

But the American Academy of Family Physicians and a number of state medical societies have opposed the measure, saying it would frighten physicians away from pain management.

Caplan tells WebMD that he believes Congress may pass a final bill blocking Oregon's law. But that won't be the end of the story, he says. "I suspect that this is going to lead to some huge litigation," such as a suit by Oregon's attorney general. Caplan predicts that such a case testing whether or not the legislation is constitutional could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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