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Reno and assisted suicide

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Tragically, assisted suicide may now become commonplace because of a questionable ruling by Attorney General Janet Reno last Friday.

Because Reno ruled that doctors who use Oregon's assisted suicide law to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients will not be prosecuted, she has opened a door that many states - which translates to many doctors and people - may and likely will pass through.We issued a warning last October when we stated, "By deciding not to hear a challenge to an Oregon law allowing terminally ill patients to get a doctor's help in killing themselves, the Supreme Court has left open a door that could lead to terrible consequences."

Because of the Supreme Court's failure to act and Reno's ruling, bank on those unpleasant consequences. There is no half measure to assisted suicide, just as there is no half measure to abortion. When the high court upheld New York's legalization of abortion in 1970, it sentenced millions of soon-to-be infants to death.

Assisted suicide is not to be confused with the right to refuse medical treatment to prolong life. There is a fundamental difference between the patient who says, "Let me die," and one who says, "Make me die." The difference is vast between removing life support systems and having a patient injected with a lethal drug that ensures immediate death.

Allowing doctors to dictate death is unwise and profoundly unethical. A physician's responsibility is to help heal and administer comfort, not to arbitrarily render death's judgment. That exceeds his or her prerogative.

But first Oregon voters, who by a 60-40 margin decided not to repeal the assisted suicide law last November, and now Reno are giving them that misguided opportunity.

In making her decision, the attorney general overruled an opinion by Thomas Constantine, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, an agency of the Justice Department. Last November Constantine, at the urging of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and Sen. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said the government would impose stiff sanctions on any doctor who wrote lethal doses of medication for a patient.

Hatch complained that Reno's interpretation of the Controlled Substance Act is unconstitutional. Other lawmakers are confident Congress will make an attempt to supersede Reno's ruling. All legal efforts to oppose the insidious assisted-suicide law need to be pursued.

Michigan is now contemplating putting an assisted suicide measure on the ballot. Other states will surely follow unless it becomes legally prohibited.

The tragedy will not stop there. What's designed to end the life of the terminally today could evolve into something far more heinous tomorrow - which is why vigorous efforts must be made to oppose assisted suicide.