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Myths About the "Pain Relief Promotion Act of 1999"

August 1999

Below are myths about PRPA, developed by Barbara Coombs Lee, that may be helpful to you as you prepare to contact others about this issue.

The Myth: The PRPA gives no new authority to the DEA.

The Truth: the DEA currently defers to local medical authorities to determine "legitimate medical practice." The PRPA gives sweeping authority to the DEA under new federal law that criminalizes distribution or dispensing of a controlled substance on the basis of its intended purpose. The DEA's authority is automatically increased because there is a sweeping new federal crime to prosecute.

The Myth: PRPA is more benign than last year's Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act because it doesn't focus on DEA agents as the enforcers.

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The Truth: PRPA employs ALL local, state and federal law enforcement personnel, including DEA agents to investigate and prosecute violators. The PRPA creates a federal crime of "dispensing, distributing, or administering a controlled substance for the purpose of causing death or assisting another person in causing death." The DEA and every other police agency will be involved.

The Myth: PRPA more narrowly defines what is prohibited than did last year's bill.

The Truth: This year's prohibition is much broader than last year's narrow prohibition of suicide and euthanasia. The PRPA cleverly does this by creating a very narrow test for legal use of controlled substances. This test is "Usual course of professional practice with no intention of causing death." Therefore, if a practice falls outside this test -- if it is in the slightest way "unusual" or suspected of "intending to cause death" -- it is subject to investigation and prosecution as a federal crime. The authorities questioning the practice will be police, not trained health professionals. Penalties for violations of this new crime are five years to life in prison, depending on the medication used.

The Myth: Hospice and other palliative care is protected under the PRPA.

The Truth: The PRPA's definition of legal use is very narrow, so aggressive palliative care and pain management gets virtually no protection. Practices that "may increase the risk of death" are allowed. But others, such as terminal sedation or respiratory suppression during ventilator withdrawal, where death is a certain and expected outcome of the therapy, are not protected. Also, ANY use of controlled substances is subject to questioning of the motive of the person who dispensed or administered the medication. In hospice this will include pharmacists, nurses, health aids and family members, who often adjust dosage when the patient is close to death.

The Myth: PRPA does not overturn Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.

The Truth: This assertion is cynical and disingenuous. Any medication for the predictable and effective hastening of death is controlled. Thus this bill overturns the popular will of Oregon voters as expressed twice in the Oregon Death With Dignity Act and upheld by federal courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.





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

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