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Bush Administration Appeals Decision on Oregon Assisted Suicide Law

by Steven Ertelt | WASHINGTON, DC | LIFENEWS.COM | 11/9/04 9:00 AM

Bioethics

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
November 9, 2004

Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — The Bush administration on Tuesday appealed a federal appellate court’s decision preventing it from restricting the use of federally controlled drugs in assisted suicides in Oregon.

Attorney General Ashcroft, expected to leave the Justice Department in the next couple of months, ruled that the drugs used in assisted suicides in Oregon violate the Controlled Substances Act because killing a patient does not constitution a "legitimate medical purpose."

The Bush administration also says doctors took an oath to heal patients, not kill them. However, a federal appeals court, earlier this year, ruled against Ashcroft.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department submitted an appeal of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Paul Clement, acting solicitor general, said the law conflicts with the powers of the federal government to regulate the use of narcotics.

All of the drugs used in the Oregon suicides fall under federal regulations and Ashcroft’s decision to prohibit use of the drugs "is the position maintained by 49 states, the federal government and leading associations of the medical profession," the brief said.

Burke Balch, the director of the department of medical ethics at the National Right to Life Committee applauded the Bush administration for filing the brief. He told LifeNews.com that having a pro-life attorney general was one benefit from re-electing the president.

Had Bush not been re-elected, a John Kerry administration likely would have withdrawn from the case.

"Now it is up to the Supreme Court to decide whether killing patients will or will not be considered a ‘legitimate medical purpose’ — the only reason, under federal law, that doctors may legally prescribe federally controlled narcotics and other dangerous drugs," Balch told LifeNews.com.

In a 1997 case, the Supreme Court ruled that no right to assisted suicide exists, but states could decide whether to allow assisted suicides to take place. It will probably decide early next year whether to review this case.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is currently working from home after undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer, wrote the 1997 opinion. The Bush administration will rely heavily on Rehnquist’s participation and vote in the case, should he be healthy enough to stay on the court.

Groups that back assisted suicide and euthanasia say they hope they Supreme Court refuses to hear the case.

But Tom Marzen, a pro-life attorney who monitors euthanasia and assisted suicide law, told LifeNews.com that "the statute involved says that federally controlled drugs can’t be used to kill any more than they can be used to feed an addiction."

"The fact that lower courts in this case thought otherwise should certainly warrant review by the U.S. Supreme Court," Marzen added.

In 1990, the high court ruled that patients could decide on their own whether to refuse lifesaving medical treatment.

Some 170 people have died as a result of the Oregon assisted suicide law. Voters and lawmakers in several other states, such as Michigan, Maine and Hawaii, have turned back efforts to legalize assisted suicide.

Related web sites:
Ashcroft Supreme Court brief -
http://wid.ap.org/documents/scotus/041109ashcroft.pdf