Feds Should Prevent Controlled-Substances Use in Assisted Suicide

Original Article

As an anti-euthanasia activist since 1993, I am used to opponents stretching the truth. True to form, Barbara Coombs Lee, the head of Compassion & Choices, claimed I advocate making assisted suicide “a federal crime.”

No, I don’t. I support a prohibition on using federally controlled substances such as opioids from being prescribed for assisted suicide — a different approach altogether that would not invalidate any state law nor create a new federal crime.

Such an approach is consistent with federal government’s primary role in regulating the proper medical use of opioids — which, after all, were developed to ease pain or aid sleep, not intentionally cause death. Indeed, prescribing these drugs for suicide is an unapproved “off label” use for these powerful drugs, for which no safety testing was ever performed. Moreover, studies in the Netherlands show that in 14 percent of reported cases, patients committing assisted suicide with these opioids experienced disturbing side effects (beyond ending life), such as regurgitation, seizures and/or extended coma. The official doctor-assisted suicide statistics published by the state of Oregon have also reported such cases.

Prohibiting controlled substances use for prescribed suicide isn’t a novel idea. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that such a statute would pass constitutional muster as consistent with well-established principles of federalism. Preventing federally controlled opioids from being used to intentionally end life would ensure that these drugs were not used in ways for which they were never intended or approved, and send the salutary message that prescribed suicide is not a true medical act.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.