Christian doctors and lawyers are lamenting a federal appeals court decision that allows Oregon doctors to continue writing prescriptions to end the lives of their terminally ill patients.

"The result is putting deadly drugs in the hands of physicians who will use them not to heal or relieve pain, but simply to kill," said David Stevens, executive director of the 17,000-member Christian Medical Association. "This is not medicine; this is not compassion; it is killing."

Oregon's Death With Dignity Act authorizes lethal prescriptions for terminally ill patients who have less than six months to live. Oregon is the only state that allows assisted suicide. State records show that 171 people have died after ingesting physician-prescribed lethal drugs since 1998.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case pitted the state of Oregon against Attorney General John Ashcroft. Oregon was appealing an interpretive rule by Ashcroft that criminalized the practice of doctors helping their patients commit suicide with drugs regulated by the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The Ninth Circuit—the same court that ruled the term "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional—ruled May 26 by a 2-1 margin that "state governments bear the primary responsibility for evaluating physician assisted suicide."

Walter Weber, senior litigation counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said the Supreme Court likely will be the ultimate arbiter in the case. Oregon is the only state that allows assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide is fraught with potential abuses, according to Weber. Relatives who consider long-term health care too burdensome may pressure terminally ill patients into taking their lives. And health-care providers may cap ...

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