Ashcroft's Final Act: Appeal Ruling Over Oregon's Assisted Suicide
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 9, 2004
WASHINGTON, DC--U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to support his attempts to block Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.
Ashcroft filed the 230-page appeal on the same day he announced his resignation from the Bush administration.
Last May, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Ashcroft had overstepped his legal authority when he detailed a new drug enforcement policy designed to stop the state's 1998 voter-approved assisted-suicide law. The court also called Ashcroft's directive "unlawful and unenforceable".
In a November 2001 memo to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Ashcroft said that the U.S. Controlled Substances Act banned doctors from prescribing lethal doses of controlled drugs to patients seeking help in taking their own lives. The administration has argued that doctors are supposed to heal patients, not help them die.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide early next year whether it will hear arguments in the case.
In 1990, the high court ruled that patients with terminal illnesses could refuse life-sustaining treatment, and in 1997 it ruled that the Constitution does not guarantee the right to assisted suicide, but that individual states could decide whether to allow the practice. The opinions in both of those cases were written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. The court is currently hearing cases with just eight justices while Rehnquist receives treatment for thyroid cancer.
As of May of this year, more than 170 people had used Oregon's law to end their lives. Disability rights advocates have been part of the movement to successfully block attempts to pass similar legislation in other states, including Hawaii and New Hampshire.
A dozen disability groups filed a brief supporting Ashcroft in his appeal. They have opposed assisted suicide laws, arguing that a number of people who are "assisted" in dying had disabilities, or mentioned a fear of becoming dependent on others as a reason for committing suicide, rather than being in the final stages of terminal illness.
"People with disabilities live and die on the front lines of the health care system and, to be succinct, we don't trust it," wrote Diane Coleman, JD, president of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, in response to the Appeals Court's ruling in May. Coleman said that the laws are primarily designed to protect doctors, not patients -- particularly patients with disabilities.
"People with disabilities are already in daily contact with a callous health care system that is all too ready to deny necessary health services to save money," she explained. "Those national disability groups who filed with Not Dead Yet in this case have the shared and first hand experience of a system with almost no accountability that is all too often pressuring people with disabilities to get out of the way."
"As usual, states rights are often a mask for government-sanctioned discrimination. In fact, Oregon's law is all about discrimination based on someone's health status, lethal discrimination."
"Our position is that it violates the ADA civil rights and equal protection principles, and should be overturned," she concluded.
Ashcroft v. Oregon (U.S. Supreme Court)
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