17 January 2006

Supreme Court upholds Oregon's assisted-suicide law

Good news for those of us who disagree with forcing people to suffer at the end of life: Today the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to uphold Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, which legalizes physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

The Supreme Court upheld Oregon's one-of-a-kind physician-assisted suicide law Tuesday, rejecting a Bush administration attempt to punish doctors who help terminally ill patients die.

Justices, on a 6-3 vote, said the 1997 Oregon law used to end the lives of more than 200 seriously ill people trumped federal authority to regulate doctors. New Chief Justice John Roberts backed the Bush administration, dissenting with the majority for the first time.

That means the administration improperly tried to use a federal drug law to prosecute Oregon doctors who prescribe overdoses. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft vowed to do that in 2001, saying that doctor-assisted suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose."

"Congress did not have this far-reaching intent to alter the federal-state balance," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for himself, retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.


The ruling was a reprimand to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who in 2001 said that doctor-assisted suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose" and that Oregon physicians would be punished for helping people die under the law.

Kennedy said the "authority claimed by the attorney general is both beyond his expertise and incongruous with the statutory purposes and design."

The ruling backed a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said Ashcroft’s "unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers interferes with the democratic debate about physician-assisted suicide."
[Read more.]

Long-winded pro-assisted-suicide rant coming soon.

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