A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a federal order aimed at thwarting Oregon's assisted suicide law.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones granted a temporary restraining order requested by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, a doctor, a pharmacist and three terminally ill patients. The order is in effect until Nov. 20. Oregon has the nation's only law allowing physician-assisted suicides.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Ashcroft said Oregon doctors could lose their licenses to prescribe federally controlled drugs if they follow the law, which has been used by at least 70 terminally ill people since 1997.

All patients used a federally controlled substance such as a barbiturate.

Ashcroft's order does not call for criminal prosecution of doctors, but effectively put the state's law on hold because a doctor would have to be willing to give up the right to prescribe federally controlled medicines, which are essential for their work.

The order reversed a June 1998 order by Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, who prohibited federal drug agents from moving against doctors who use Oregon's law.

The state responded with a federal lawsuit, saying Ashcroft had taken away Oregon's right to govern the practice of medicine.

Oregon's assisted suicide law was narrowly approved by voters in November 1994. It survived legal challenges and was later re-approved by a wide margin in November 1997 before it was officially signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber on June 30, 1999.

Under the law, doctors may provide — but not administer — a lethal prescription to terminally ill adult state residents. It requires that two doctors agree the patient has less than six months to live, has voluntarily chosen to die and is able to make health care decisions.