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President signs prohibition on assisted-suicide funds

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton has signed into law a bill prohibiting federal funds for assisted suicide.

“While I have deep sympathy for those who suffer greatly from incurable illness, I believe that to endorse assisted suicide would set us on a disturbing and perhaps dangerous path,” Clinton said April 30 in a prepared statement.

The president’s action followed easy approval in Congress. In mid-April, the Senate approved the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act in a 99-0 vote after the House of Representatives passed it 398-16.

The legislation bans the use of federal funds and facilities to promote, subsidize or provide assisted suicide or euthanasia.

The Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission supported the bill but also has called for more comprehensive legislation against the practice.

Legislative action on physician-assisted suicide came as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue an opinion on the hotly debated issue. A decision should be announced by July.

In January, the high court heard arguments in two controversial decisions made last year in federal appeals courts. In March, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California overturned a Washington state law, saying there is a “constitutionally protected liberty interest in determining the time and manner of one’s own death.” In April, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court struck down New York’s law prohibiting physician assistance in a suicide, ruling there is no difference between the prescribing of drugs for a suicide than the withdrawal of artificial life support.

Supporters of the funding ban say the legislation is necessary whether the Supreme Court upholds the decisions or overturns them. A reversal will mean the issue returns to state legislatures. If a state legalizes euthanasia without the ban in place, a judge could rule funding of assisted suicide is required under such programs as Medicare and Medicaid and in such facilities as veterans’ and military hospitals, ban advocates say.

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