Supreme Court Hears Assisted Suicide Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 5, 2005
WASHINGTON, DC--The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over whether the federal government can use drug laws to keep doctors from prescribing drugs intended for suicide.
In Gonzales v. Oregon (formerly Oregon v. Ashcroft) the state is challenging former Attorney General John Ashcroft's interpretation of the federal Controlled Substances Act as banning doctors from prescribing lethal doses of drugs to patients who want to take their own lives. Ashcroft had said that it is not a legitimate use of a drug to prescribe it with death as the goal.
Under Oregon's 1994 physician-assisted suicide law, residents diagnosed with terminal illnesses may ask doctors for the lethal dose of a drug in order to kill themselves. Those who are eligible must be found to not have any mental condition that could impair their judgment.
The law, which is the only one of its kind in the United States, essentially protects doctors from liability for assisting in a suicide.
Earlier this year, a dozen disability advocacy groups signed onto an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting the federal government's position.
Many disability rights advocates have opposed measures making assisted suicide legal, arguing that the existence of such laws puts the lives of people with certain disabilities at greater risk. They have also claimed that Oregon's law violates the rights of people with disabilities under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, along with equal protection provisions in the Constitution, because it discriminates against them and degrades their lives.
In a press release, the disability rights group Not Dead Yet noted that, while intolerable pain as been given as the primary reason for supporting assisted suicide laws for people with terminal illnesses, the reasons people give for seeking help in ending their lives are often fear of "loss of autonomy" and "feelings of being a burden" -- emotions that people who acquire physical disabilities experience when learning to rely on others.
"Studies of attitudes of terminally ill people toward assisted suicide and euthanasia confirm that interest in physician-assisted suicide appeared to be more a function of psychological distress and social factors than physical factors," the grassroots organization said in its statement.
"If the values of liberty really dictate that society legalizes assisted suicide, then legalize it for everyone who asks for it, not just the devalued old, ill and disabled," said Not Dead Yet president and founder Diane Coleman. "Otherwise, what looks like freedom is really only discrimination."
Commenting on the law to Voice of America, Coleman added: "Instead of discouraging you and telling you how valuable your life is, we are going to agree with you and make sure you do not mess it up. We are going to give you the means to do it."
"That is a very dangerous message to people who have severe impairments, whether they are terminal or not."
Along with Not Dead Yet, the following disability groups signed on to the amicus brief: ADAPT; Center on Disability Studies, Law and Human Policy at Syracuse University; Center for Self- Determination; Hospice Patients Alliance; Mouth Magazine/Freedom Clearinghouse; National Council on Independent Living; National Spinal Cord Injury Association; Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered; Society for Disability Studies; TASH; and World Institute on Disability.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in the next few months.
"Gonzales v. Oregon" (International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide)
"Congress might join fight about death law" (Salem Statesman Journal)
Not Dead Yet