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Senate Panel Debates Proposal Against Physician-Assisted Suicide

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Other advocates of the bill say it is the right medicine. Gregory Hamilton, MD, president of the Oregon-based Physicians for Compassionate Care, tells WebMD that the argument that the bill would chill physician pain management is "bogus." "None of us are scared of that anyway," he says. "The bill even improves our security by making it very clear that the intent is the issue. We're protected because we can claim our intent."

Hamilton also praises the provider education elements of the bill. "This is a very well-balanced bill that provides education to health care workers to help them improve their skills," he tells WebMD. "The ability to treat pain ... far outstrips the current practice."

James Rathmell, MD, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, testified for the ASA that he supported the bill but with hesitations. "Making a clear distinction between legitimate use of opioids and physician-assisted suicide might not be so clear in all cases," he noted. Nevertheless, he said, the legislation's promotion of pain management education "outweighs our fears about the DEA ... and the chilling effect."

But David Joranson, director of the pain and policy studies group at the University of Wisconsin's Comprehensive Cancer Center, testified about his serious worries over the bill's implications. "It seems likely that the Attorney General and the DEA would be faced with decisions which involve medicine and science," he testified. "The chances for conflict between law enforcement and medicine [will] increase, as does the likelihood that patient care will be harmed."

Although Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) has vowed to fight to the end against what he says is the measure's inappropriate Washington meddling in his state's decision, Nickles has powerful support in the House for his approach. Similar legislation is pending there from Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R, Ill.).

 

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