Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – through its Institute for Public Affairs, decried a federal court ruling overturning 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.
Attorney General Ashcroft’s action, articulated in a November, 2001 memorandum to D.E.A. Administrator Asa Hutchinson, reinstated 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 directive determined “that assisting suicide is not a ‘legitimate medical purpose’ within the meaning of [the Controlled Substances Act]” and, just as significantly, the directive stated that the use of federally controlled drugs for pain treatment ought to be “promoted.” The State of Oregon challenged the directive in defense of its “Death With Dignity” law.
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 court’s ruling this morning:
The Orthodox Jewish community is deeply disappointed in the district court’s decision to overturn 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. The Attorney General’s directive was the correct law and policy on this matter and we are confident that the appellate courts will reverse today’s decision.