President Bush Asks Court to Reconsider Oregon Assisted Suicide Ruling

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 12, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

President Bush Asks Court to Reconsider Oregon Assisted Suicide Ruling

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 12, 2004

San Francisco, CA ( — President Bush is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision overturning a Bush administration ruling that prohibited federally regulated drugs from being used in assisted suicides in Oregon.

Citing the Controlled Substances Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled last year that the drugs used in Oregon assisted suicides, all of which are federally controlled, can no longer be used.

A majority of a three judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that Ashcroft’s "unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers interferes with the democratic debate about physician assisted suicide."

Now, the Bush administration wants the entire 25-judge appeals court to consider the case. In order for that to happen, thirteen of the judges must agree to hear the appeal.

"[A]ssisting suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose," Bush administration attorneys argue in their request for the full appeals court hearing. As a result, the president should be able to declare that drugs under federal regulations can’t be used to kill patients via assisted suicides.

Justice Department attorneys also argued that assisting patient deaths violates the oath doctors take and turns healers into killers.

If the entire appeals court fails to consider the case, the Bush administration can move ahead to the U.S. Supreme Court with its appeal of a local judge’s decision overturning Ashcroft’s order.

"This is the usual step that lawyers will take before requesting U.S. Supreme Court review," pro-life attorney Tom Marzen told

Marzen, a leading expert on euthanasia issues, said the move signals that "the Bush administration is willing to fight all the way to keep the medical professions from providing deadly drugs to people so they can kill themselves."

Under Ashcroft’s order, doctors who prescribed lethal overdoses of the prohibited drugs could lose their licenses. Physicians wanting to help patients end their lives would have to use drugs other than those that fall under the CSA regulations.

In a May interview, likely Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said he disagreed with the Bush administration about regulating the drugs. He supports Oregon’s assisted suicide law.

Some 171 people have ended their lives under the 1998 Oregon law, the only one of its kind in the nation.

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.