Assisted Suicide Vote Delayed

The House has delayed the vote on an anti-physician assisted suicide bill until Tuesday, a spokesman for Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said Friday.

The House had been expected to vote Friday after months of debate on the bill that would discourage - if not prevent - patients from dying under Oregon's landmark physician-assisted suicide law, reports CBS News Correspondent Diana Olick..

But House leaders told members about 10 p.m. Thursday night there would be no votes or debate on Friday.

Backers of the Pain Relief Promotion Act expect an easy victory when the House does take up the matter.

"My optimism grows with every moment," said Richard Doerflinger of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. "There is very little support in Congress for physician-assisted suicide."

Five years ago, Oregon voted to legalize assisted suicide, even though Congress had voted that it was unconstitutional.

Assisted suicide was initially legalized in Oregon as a result of the attorney general's ruling that the states, not the federal government, is in command of how doctors practice medicine. It allows terminally ill patients with fewer than six months to live to commit suicide with a doctor's help.

Right-to-life advocates are now urging lawmakers to read the fine print. The 1994 law, they contend, gives doctors more authority in prescribing pain medication and therefore puts them under federal government jurisdiction.

But Oregon House Democrats intensely lobbied their colleagues, trying to secure the 146 votes needed to sustain a veto, even though President Clinton has not yet said whether he would veto the bill.

"If I can get 146 votes that would keep me in the ballgame. I would be thrilled," said Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore.

Under the bill by House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., physicians who intentionally use federally controlled substances to cause death would face the revocation of their licenses to dispense the drugs.

While the measure doesn't single out Oregon, opponents say the bill would gut the state's assisted suicide law. All 15 patients who died under Oregon's law during its first full year in 1998 used controlled substances to take their lives.

A two-hour debate was planned on the Hyde bill and the House Rules Committee decided Thursday to allow two Democratic amendments.

One, co-authored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., would strike the section of the bill that prohibits the use of controlled substances for intentionally aiding a suicide.

The other, co-authored by Hooley, would put the House on record as opposing physician-assisted suicide and encouraging pain treatment, but would allow terminal patients to take life-ending, federally controlled drugs.

Neither lawmaker expected the amendments to pass.

Tuesday's vote would mark the first time that either house of Congress has voted on a bill that would thwart Oregon's law. Last year's Hyde-Nickles bills ded after clearing the judiciary committees in both houses.

Bill backers hoped a big victory margin in the House would create momentum for the Senate to take up the bill yet this year.