Physicians late last week started lobbying Congress to reject legislation aimed at prohibiting physician-assisted suicide.
Although most physician organizations oppose physician-assisted suicide, some doctors fear that under the bill, prescribing pain medication could provoke a federal Drug Enforcement Administration investigation.
By an 11-6 vote Sept. 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would prohibit physicians from prescribing medicine with the purpose of assisting in the suicide of a terminally ill patient.
The full House, meanwhile, delayed action on a similar measure. A House Judiciary Committee spokesman said there wasn't time to add the measure to the House's already packed schedule.
During Senate committee debate last week, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) expressed doubt that legislation would be enacted this year. But he said revisions he proposed should address physicians' concerns.
The revisions would require the Justice Department to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a physician assisted with a patient's suicide before revoking or suspending the physician's license.
"Our big concern is that physicians trying to do right by their patients . . . which sometimes means a lot of pain medicine, are potentially going to be subjected to a DEA investigation," said Michael Werner, counsel for legislation and policy for the Philadelphia-based American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.