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In Congress Nickles Pushes, Wyden Defends

Fall 2000

As Congress nears the end of its current session, proponents of the mis-named "Pain Relief Promotion Act" continue to try to force this controversial legislation on the terminally ill. As we go to press, PRPA supporters say they will push for a vote on the issue by the end of the session.

Against enormous odds, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, is courageously leading the fight against PRPA. He has repeatedly said he will filibuster any bill containing PRPA or PRPA-like language. He has asked his colleagues to take a good look at PRPA and oppose it.

"This is ultimately going to be a question of whether members of the United States Senate are going to substitute their own personal and religious beliefs for those of the people of Oregon," Wyden said.

"This is about throwing the law of a small state, located many, many miles from the capital, into the trashcan because it does not comport with the personal and religious beliefs of some in Washington, D.C."

PRPA sponsor, U.S. Sen. Don Nickles, R-OK, is trying to add the PRPA to another bill, preferably a "must pass" spending bill. The White House refuses to comment on whether President Clinton will veto a spending bill with PRPA attached.

Several state medical societies and more than 50 medical, healthcare and patient groups, as well as countless healthcare practitioners and ethicists oppose PRPA.

All agree PRPA is dangerous legislation that will turn back recent improvements in pain and palliative care. This group believes PRPA will cause harm to patients in pain by threatening physicians and other healthcare professionals who provide pain relief.

PRPA directs DEA agents and criminal prosecutors to question the intent of physicians or healthcare professionals who provide pain medication or other controlled substances to a patient who dies shortly thereafter. A physician could lose the right to practice medicine and be sent to prison for 20 years to life if the intent was deemed to "cause death."

This threat of regulatory intervention and oversight, and the fear of having their intentions misconstrued, would surely dissuade physicians from aggressively treating pain for the terminally ill.

Ironically, PRPA's most ardent supporters try to pass this bill off as a health care bill. When they begin to argue about its dubious merits, however, they quickly move into religion and morality. PRPA's true purpose is not to promote care, but to nullify Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

Sadly, in their zeal to impose their particular religion and morality on Oregonians, PRPA proponents are willing to doom thousands of Americans to unnecessary suffering at the end of life. Many Compassion supporters are making their voices heard to help stop this threat.

Many senators remain unsure of how they will vote. Some have taken a position against PRPA after hearing from constituents and medical professionals in their state.

Senator Wyden has won our gratitude and respect for his diligence and dedication in fighting PRPA.

(Quotes for this article first appeared in the Albany Times Union and Gannett News Service)

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This article was provided by Compassion in Dying. It is a part of the publication Compassion in Dying.