David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 11/16/01
I never cease to be amazed by some of the things that come out of John Ashcroft's mouth. About a week ago, our Attorney General said that "terrorists will be detained, and in some cases deported." He was referring, at least in part, to the several hundred, maybe by now a thousand people taken into custody following the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington. About ten of them are thought to be actual terrorists.
Strange, one would think, and hope, that terrorists, or even those who have willfully aided them, would be prosecuted and incarcerated in the US, not deported to go free about their bloody business in other countries where our ability to monitor them would be substantially diminished. If some detainees are deemed innocent enough to be merely deported, then they must not be terrorists. At least one would think. Chances are the majority of the deportations will be done on the basis of mere immigration violations.
So why is he calling them terrorists? It's a little slanderous. Of course, we see in the drug war that prosecutors lie about people under their control all the time, so I suppose I shouldn't be amazed. Somehow, though, I still can't help it. Even more amazing are some of the things Ashcroft came up with to have defined as terrorism in the new law he helped to write, such as low-level computer hacking.
Given such Orwellian thought patterns, it should be no surprise that Ashcroft's drug war policies are equally poorly conceived. One of the worst is his new attempt to have the DEA go after Oregon doctors who prescribe drugs to terminally ill patients for assisted suicide. One ought to take pause when even supporters of one's objectives object to one's methods. And that is indeed the case here: There are medical organizations that are on the record as opposing assisted suicide, who nevertheless oppose this new Ashcroft initiative.
The reason that opposition to the Ashcroft anti-assisted suicide plan spans organizations with a range of positions on that issue has to do with the treatment of chronic pain. The norm in pain treatment in the US is that pain is generally undertreated, sometimes not treated at all, despite the existence and ready availability of treatments that work. The problem is that the same drugs most commonly used to control pain -- opiates, or narcotics, are also used by recreational users and abused by addicts -- and are also used for assisted suicide.
DEA scrutiny of prescriptions of these substances has had a calamitously chilling effect on the willingness of physicians to prescribe them in the quantities needed by patients in severe, long-term, chronic pain. Though DEA pays lip service to the need to ensure the availability of pain treatment to patients, in practice, many agents and prosecutors are woefully ignorant of the medical realities of pain control, and some deliberately target doctors and patients.
Even when some DEA offices show reasonable judgment with regard to pain prescriptions, the reality is that the scrutiny itself, and the possible consequences -- which range from loss of license to hard-time in federal penitentiaries -- automatically scares doctors away from treating pain. Medical organizations fear that increasing that scrutiny will frighten doctors from providing needed pain relievers for fear of their prescriptions being misinterpreted as assisted suicide.
They have evidence on their side. The DEA actually tried to do this back in late 1997, only to be stopped by then Attorney General Janet Reno, who was skeptical about their legal powers in this area. But the threat alone, unfulfilled, had consequences. Research performed at Oregon Health Sciences University found that undertreatment of pain increased sharply among Oregon's dying following the DEA's threat against doctors performing assisted suicide.
This chain of cause and effect, however, is a little complex, and requires one to understand that the drug war does harm. And that concept may lie beyond the intellectual grasp of an Attorney General who evidently has trouble distinguishing between illegal immigration -- a misdemeanor, incidentally -- and international mega-terrorism.
All the more reason for citizens to be critical of their government, even in a time of crisis -- in fact, especially in a time of crisis. Otherwise, federal fanatics will take every opportunity they can to steal our constitutional rights.