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Let doctorsbe doctors

Punishing physicians for helping dying patients is out of line

The Bush administration just won't let well enough alone.

Determined to punish doctors who respond with compassion to terminally ill patients seeking pain relief, the administration is taking its fight over medical marijuana to the Supreme Court. As we have pointed out before, this is a curiously twisted attempt to squash states' rights from an administration that claims to be made up of conservative Republicans.

At issue is a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the federal government's policy interferes with the free-speech rights of doctors and patients to discuss potential treatments.

Theodore Olson, the U.S. solicitor general, says the ruling keeps the government from protecting the public, and allows doctors to treat patients with illegal drugs.

The only protection dying patients need, it seems to us, is protection from an overreaching government that claims to be on their side while doing everything in its power to limit their choice of pain relief.

— As for the argument that doctors are being allowed to prescribe an illegal drug, we beg to differ. Nine states have now declared marijuana legal for the very limited purpose of relieving the pain of cancer, AIDS and other debilitating and fatal conditions.

Olson says prescribing marijuana is no different from prescribing heroin or LSD. Of course it's different. Heroin and LSD have not been approved by voters or state legislators for medical treatment.

Morphine is illegal, too ' for anyone except a doctor or a patient to possess. But the federal government recognizes its use for the relief of severe pain, so doctors can prescribe it without fear of retribution.

The same should be true of marijuana.

Consider closure

A fire on the edge of the northwest boundary of the Ashland Watershed this weekend points to the need to consider restricting access to Ashland's primary water source.

The fire broke out Saturday and burned some 25 acres before it was fully contained at 6 p.m. Sunday. Investigators believe the Horn Gap fire was human-caused.

Ashlanders have been arguing about the watershed for years. Environmental activists have resisted Forest Service proposals to thin trees and remove brush to reduce the likelihood of fire.

Investigators have not yet found the ignition source of the fire. They could find no sign of lightning or other natural occurrences that might have kindled it.

We hesitate to suggest barring the public from public land, but perhaps the time has come to consider just such a step in this case. Because the Ashland watershed is so critical to the lives of everyone in that city, a temporary closure during the highest fire danger might make sense ' at least until enough work is done to reduce fuel buildup and therefore the risk of catastrophic fire.