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Why we oppose the Pain Relief Promotion Act - Opponents Gear Up As Vote On Pain Relief Bill May Be Near

Thursday, August 20, 1970

By Julie Rovner, CONGRESS DAILY/A.M.

The following article was carried in Congress Daily A.M. explains the building opposition to the Pain Relief Promotion Act and reported on the internet by John Hoffsess in "Nothing But the News".

The Pain Relief Promotion Act, which would explicitly outlaw the use of federal controlled substances for assisted suicide and is expected on the Senate floor late this week or next week, could lead to worse treatment for patients in pain, opponents charged Tuesday.

The bill, facing a filibuster threat from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would overturn a 1998 ruling by Attorney General Reno that physicians who prescribe controlled substances in accordance with Oregon's first-in-the-nation law legalizing assisted suicide would not be in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The measure, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Nickles, would explicitly declare that assisted suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose" under the CSA, effectively blocking use of the Oregon law. Backers say it would also improve pain care by adding to the CSA a provision that using controlled substances for pain relief "is consistent with public health and safety, even if the use of such a substance may increase the risk of death." Pushed by the National Right to Life Committee, the bill also has endorsements from the American Medical Association and the National Hospice Organization.

But other medical groups, led by the American Pain Foundation, said the measure could do more harm than good. Putting the Drug Enforcement Administration in charge of determining if a physician, by prescribing controlled substances, intended to relieve pain or assist a suicide would deter many physicians from adequately treating their patients' pain, they say.

"What we don't want is a DEA agent second-guessing a physician's intent," said Jim Guest, executive director of the Baltimore-based pain foundation.

The ultimate outcome of the bill, passed overwhelmingly by the House last year, remains in doubt. The legislation is coming to the floor under the terms of an agreement reached between Nickles and Wyden in August. Wyden agreed not to filibuster the motion to proceed to the bill, in exchange for Nickles' releasing a hold of a bill that would stabilize payments to rural counties with national forests. The forest bill passed the Senate last Wednesday, clearing the way for debate on the pain relief measure.

Exact timing remains under discussion, said a Nickles aide. The bill has 42 cosponsors, including Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.-- presumably enough to invoke cloture over Wyden's objections. But opponents said Tuesday that they were making headway. "As people learn more about the bill and about the potential dangers, we think momentum is moving our way," said Guest.

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