Supreme Court Will Announce Possible Hearing on Assisted Suicide Tomorrow

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 21, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Supreme Court Will Announce Possible Hearing on Assisted Suicide Tomorrow Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 21, 2005

Washington, DC ( — Euthanasia activists and opponents will find out from the Supreme Court tomorrow if it will hear a case on whether federally controlled drugs can be used in assisted suicides in Oregon, the only state where the practice is legal.

The Bush administration argues it can prevent the use of certain drugs in assisted suicides while the state of Oregon contends the decision violates its rights and the right of voters, who have approved the law on two separate occasions.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled that the drugs used in assisted suicides in Oregon violated the Controlled Substances Act because killing a patient does not constitution a "legitimate medical purpose."

All of the 171 assisted suicides in the state in the six years the law has been on the books have used the federally controlled drugs.

An appeals court disagreed with Ashcroft and, in November, the Bush administration submitted an appeal of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court refuses to take the case or overturns the Bush administration’s decision, pro-life advocates could head back to Congress and ask it to pass the Pain Relief Promotion Act.

That legislation would prohibit doctors from prescribing the controlled drugs for assisted suicides and promote palliative care to help disabled and terminally ill patients find suicide alternatives. The bill passed the House 271-156 in 1999, but pro-assisted suicide Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, used a filibuster threat to prevent a Senate vote.

However, with more pro-life votes in the Senate and backing from Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman and possible support from Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, the bill could receive enough support to warrant a Senate vote.

Lieberman told the Associated Press that he will bring up the bill should the Supreme Court fail to take the case.

Physicians have long been concerned that abuses of Oregon’s assisted suicide law could take place regularly, indicated by inconsistencies in statements from assisted suicide advocates and medical reports.

"Information regarding what happens at the time of taking the lethal medication is self-reported by the prescribing doctors, who were only present in 29% of the patients that took lethal medication in 2003," explained Dr. Kenneth Stevens, President of Physicians for Compassionate Care in Oregon.

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.

Related web sites:
Ashcroft Supreme Court brief –
Physician: Abuses of Oregon Euthanasia Law Could Occur Regularly –