U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Administration Case Against Oregon
Assisted Suicide Law
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 22, 2005
WASHINGTON, DC--The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it would hear the federal government's challenge to Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law.
The court will hear arguments in its next term, which begins in October, over former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's attempt to block the state's voter-approved "Death with Dignity" law.
In a November 2001 memo to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Ashcroft interpreted the U.S. Controlled Substances Act as banning doctors from prescribing lethal doses of controlled drugs -- in this case barbiturates -- to patients wanting help to take their own lives. Ashcroft said that doctors are supposed to give medications to treat their illnesses, and that prescribing a drug with dying as the goal is not a legitimate use of that drug.
A U.S. District Judge ruled in Oregon's favor in April 2002. That ruling was upheld last May by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
At issue is whether the federal government has the authority to exercise control over an area of the law -- such as medical treatment and doctors' licensing -- that is traditionally reserved for the states. The state has argued that the Attorney General misinterpreted the Controlled Substances Act, which deals with drug abuse and prevention; and that any limit imposed on states regarding the practice of medicine should have come from the Department of Health and Human Services, not Ashcroft's Justice Department.
A dozen disability groups had filed a brief supporting Ashcroft's position in the appeal. Advocates have opposed assisted suicide laws, noting that a number of people who have been "assisted" in dying were not in the terminal stages of illness, but had disabilities or mentioned a fear of becoming dependent on others as a reason for committing suicide. Some also have pointed out that Oregon's law was approved about the same time the state began limiting health coverage.
"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," Diane Coleman, JD, president of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, wrote in response to the appeals court's ruling last May. "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."
"Our position is that it violates the ADA civil rights and equal protection principles, and should be overturned," Coleman said of Oregon's law.
Since the law was enacted in 1998, at least 171 people have committed suicide under its guidelines. Disability rights advocates have been part of the movement to successfully block attempts to pass similar legislation in other states, including Hawaii, Vermont and, most recently, in California.
Justices to Hear Case on Oregon's Suicide Law (Los Angeles Times)
Not Dead Yet