Henry Hyde's Latest Battle: Assisted Suicide

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States’ rights — it’s a phrase not often heard since the battle over civil rights. Now it could reemerge in the battle over the right to die. In a little-noticed move Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill banning the use of "controlled substances" — prescription drugs — in physician-assisted suicide, which is currently legal only in Oregon. The bill, sponsored by Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), was approved by a 16-8 committee vote, and will face a full House vote in the coming weeks. Sponsors of the measure hope that it will prevent terminally ill patients and their doctors from ending the patient’s life. The House bill, and its Senate version, sponsored by Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.), have ruffled some feathers out West. "A lot of Oregonians perceive this as a real slap in the face," says TIME Washington correspondent Sally Donnelly. "This bill is aimed directly at a piece of state legislation that was accepted twice by voters."

Opposition to Hyde’s bill has been quiet so far, but if the bill passes in the House, that could change quickly. Democrats are grumbling over an apparent intrusion into states’ rights, and although President Clinton has not taken a stand on the bill at this point, "it is definitely on the administration’s radar scope," says Donnelly. It's likely that conservative poster boys Hyde and Nickles, long wedded to the idea of a less intrusive Federal government, will come under fire for their refusal to accept Oregon voters’ autonomy. And if the bill makes its way through the Senate, there could be legal fireworks. According to TIME senior writer Alain Sanders, "If this bill passes into law, and there are enough people in Oregon who want to challenge its passage, we’ll see it in the Supreme Court."