OU Applauds Atty. General Ashcroft Directive On Physician Assisted Suicide

Posted on November 6, 2001 In Press Releases, Physician Assisted Suicide

Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – through its Institute for Public Affairs, applauded a policy directive announced this afternoon by Attorney General John Ashcroft clarifying that federally controlled drugs may not be used by physicians to assist their patients commit suicide.

This action reinstates the understanding of the federal Controlled Substances Act that was in place until Attorney General Reno issued a policy directive allowing the use of federally controlled drugs for assisted suicides in June, 1998. Attorney General Ashcroft’s action, articulated in a memorandum to D.E.A. Administrator Asa Hutchinson, was in part prompted by a Supreme Court ruling last term affirming that laws controlling drugs in the United States are uniform throughout and may not be overruled by the laws of individual States.

The policy directive states that the Attorney General “determines that assisting suicide is not a ‘legitimate medical purpose’ within the meaning of [the Controlled Substances Act]” and, just as significantly, the directive states that the use of federally controlled drugs for pain treatment ought to be “promoted.”

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations has worked diligently in recent years with other concerned groups such as the American Medical Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to achieve this policy goal. We worked on a bipartisan basis with Senators Don Nickles (R-OK) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) to achieve this result legislatively through the Pain Relief Promotion Act of 2000, but were unsuccessful.

Nathan Diament, director of the Union’s Institute, issued the following statement after the Attorney General’s announcement:

The Orthodox Jewish community applauds the policy directive of the Attorney General and the Bush Administration which is consistent with ancient Jewish values recognizing the infinite value and sanctity of human life and seeking to preserve it, while at the same time taking all responsible measures to comfort the ill. The Bible instructs us to “surely heal” the ill, not to speed their departure from this earth. Today’s policy directive serves these goals and welcome its announcement.