UPDATE

May 20, 2005

On finance and practice.

US-stock funds go into a slump After posting double-digit gains for 2004, domestic-stock mutual funds dropped by an average of 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2005, with only bear market and energy funds making any money. Funds specializing in natural resources, including petroleum stocks, rose by 13 percent, while those specializing in utilities, also energy-heavy, went up by 2.7 percent, according to data from Morningstar. Bear market funds, which are designed to do well when the stock market slumps, earned 4.6 percent.

Make sure your tax records are clean The IRS says it plans to study how well S corporations and partnerships comply with tax laws. (Presumably, it would do this by increasing the number of audits.) According to Kiplinger Tax Letter, the agency suspects that more small businesses are cheating on their taxes, such as by underreporting net income. Its suspicions were fueled when it studied recent audits of individual taxpayers and found a gap of more than $300 billion between how much they owed and how much they actually paid. On the basis of this, the IRS says it needs to do more to find out the extent of the "tax gap" for small businesses.

End-of-life care: Vermont may follow OregonNow that the media and political frenzy surrounding the Terri Schiavo case has abated, the spotlight may shift to Vermont, where lawmakers are considering a physician-assisted suicide bill. The measure would allow terminally ill, mentally competent people with a life expectancy of less than six months to receive from their attending physician a prescription to hasten death.

In addition to determining that the patient is terminally ill, the attending would have to request proof of residency, discuss his diagnosis and prognosis with the patient, and inform him of the risks and probable result of taking the medication. The doctor also would have to refer the patient to a consulting physician for confirmation of the diagnosis and prognosis, and a determination that the patient is capable and acting voluntarily. It would then be left to the patient to self-medicate.

The bill is modeled after Oregon's landmark 1997 law. Since that law was enacted, 208 people have ended their lives with the help of their physicians.