Washington, Nov. 7--(RNS) A range of conservative religious groups have applauded Attorney General John Ashcroft's move Tuesday (Nov. 6) to permit federal drug agents to take action against doctors who assist terminally ill patients in committing suicide.

The attorney general said doctors who use drugs to help patients die face suspension or revocation of their licenses to prescribe drugs. He said assisted suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose." The order, which effectively overrides Oregon's law permitting assisted suicide, was spelled out in a letter to Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson. "Good medicine and good law call on physicians to kill pain, not patients," said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement praising Ashcroft's order. "President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft should be thanked for affirming this vitally important principle."

Nathan Diament, director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America's Institute for Public Affairs, also applauded the move. "The Bible instructs us to `surely heal' the ill, not to speed their departure from this Earth," Diament said in a statement.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said he hoped Ashcroft's action would influence other states' consideration of the issue. "The actions of the attorney general represent a bold and important move for the defense of human life and are likely to cause states to pause as they consider legislation that follows the path of the assisted-suicide law in Oregon," Sekulow said in a statement.

Ashcroft's action reverses a 1998 decision by former Attorney General Janet Reno, who prohibited federal drug agents from taking action against doctors using the law in Oregon. Oregon Death With Dignity and other supporters of the state law believe the federal government is taking over a states' rights issue after Oregon voters twice approved referendums permitting physician-assisted suicides, the Associated Press reported.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the order from Ashcroft "is undoing Oregon's popular will in the most undemocratic manner possible. ... Americans in every corner of the nation are going to suffer needlessly."

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