On December 7, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order to keep the voter-approved, physician-assisted suicide law from taking effect. Two cancer physicians, two nursing homes, and three terminally ill patients challenged Measure 16 in a lawsuit. The Oregon initiative had been passed by a 51 percent vote on November 8.

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan set a preliminary injunction hearing for December 19 to hear evidence in order to determine the referendum's constitutionality.

The initiative requires a mandatory 15-day waiting period between a patient's request for a lethal dose of medication and its dispensing.

State officials had prepared "emergency regulations" to implement the measure. Public hearings must be held this year in order for the regulations to become permanent. Among the issues to be decided by bureaucrats is what to call physician-assisted death, because Measure 16 specifically forbids the use of the word "suicide" to describe such deaths. Undecided, too, is how to protect the privacy—even from family members—of patients who choose to die under Measure 16.

The electoral initiative had the backing of "right-to-die" advocates such as Derek Humphry, author of the bestseller Final Exit, and the Hemlock Society, headquartered in Eugene. Opponents include evangelical and Catholic groups, which brought in more than $1 million from out of state to finance an opposition campaign.

The measure is the only law in the world that decriminalizes physician-assisted suicide. In the Netherlands, which has nearly 20 years of experience with euthanasia, the nation's law enforcers turn a blind eye to doctor-assisted dying, but it has not been decriminalized.

LAWSUIT ...

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