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A debate has begun on the application of federal drug laws to assisted suicide -- a debate which may result in a new federal law to counter Oregons experiment in doctor-assisted death Last November the Drug Enforcement Administration DEA concluded that assisting a suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose for the use of federally regulated drugs and that using such drugs to assist a suicide could cost a physician the federal DEA registration authorizing him or her to prescribe controlled substances But on June 5 US attorney general Janet Reno reversed the DEA policy ruling that the Controlled Substances Act does not authorize the DEA to prosecute or to revoke the DEA registration of a physician who has assisted in a suicide in compliance with Oregon law page 4 The attorney general added that the DEA could act against physicians in states that have not legalized assisted suicide and even in Oregon when a physician fails to comply with state procedures in doing so By ruling that the DEA would actively help Oregon enforce its policy of authorizing some assisted suicides while forbidding others Ms Reno made a congressional response inevitable On the day of the attorney generals ruling Representatives Henry Hyde R-IL and James Oberstar D-MN introduced HR 4006 the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1998 Senator Don Nickles R-OK the Assistant Majority Leader of the Senate introduced a Senate version S 2151 four days later Both bills would clarify the Controlled Substances Act by stating that a medical practitioner who misuses controlled substances to assist suicides may lose his or her DEA registration The bills distinguish assisted suicide from legitimate use of drugs for pain management using language endorsed by the American Medical Association AMA last year as part of the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act A physician investigated by the DEA may demand a hearing before an advisory panel of medical experts who can
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