Robert Dannenhoffer, M.D., president of the Oregon Medical Association, talked with Modern Healthcare about the impact of the Supreme Court's assisted-suicide ruling.
Q. What do you think the Supreme Court's decision means for Oregon physicians?
A. "It doesn't mean much to the everyday practice of medicine. For physicians who choose to participate, this gets rid of the roadblock. The OMA has a neutral position because our members are passionate on both sides. The OMA has been concerned over the years that the federal government, through the Drug Enforcement Agency, will be increasingly involved in the day-to-day practice of medicine, (such as) when physicians prescribe narcotics for legitimate pain control. The court showed that medical-practice issues are a state issue rather than a federal issue, and, to that end, we're glad."
Q. Where are these procedures performed?
A. "It's almost always a procedure that would happen in the home. When you look at the people who avail themselves of a physician, they are usually middle or upper income, well-educated, and generally covered by insurance."
Q. Can residents of other states travel to Oregon for the procedure?
A. "It's my understanding that it has just been Oregon residents." (The Oregon Health Division said there is no law that prohibits physician-assisted suicides by outsiders, but patients must establish a residency in Oregon.)
Q. What is the Oregon Medical Association's reaction to Justice Scalia's comment in his dissenting opinion, "If the term legitimate medical purpose has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death"?
A. "Our concern is that in end-of-life situations, frequently pain medications are given. Sometimes those medications may hasten death, not cause death. We're concerned by a statement that there could be some blurring of that very complex issue. The concern would suggest that the (federal government) could decide the `legitimate medical purpose.' The people of Oregon have decided it is legitimate. The court majority said it's up to the state to decide what a legitimate medical purpose is."