Supreme Court Gets Brief Defending Oregon Assisted Suicide Law

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

Supreme Court Gets Brief Defending Oregon Assisted Suicide Law Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 21, 2005

Washington, DC ( — Members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation on Wednesday reminded the nation that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts would decide a key assisted suicide case as well as lawsuits related to abortion.

They filed a brief with the top court asking it not to side with the Bush administration against allowing federally controlled drugs to be used in assisted suicides.

Sen. Ron Wyden and Reps. David Wu, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Darlene Hooley filed a brief together arguing against the White House’s contention that the Controlled Substances Act allows the federal government to determine that the narcotics should not be used.

"The brief tells the Supreme Court that there’s simply no legal or logical basis for the Justice Department’s continued efforts to thwart the will of Oregon voters on this medical matter traditionally left to the states," Wyden said

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft determined that the drugs do not constitute a "legitimate medical purpose" and, therefore, they should be prohibited from being used to kill patients. All of the drugs in the assisted suicides in Oregon have involved such narcotics.

Ashcroft determined that any doctor prescribing the regulated drugs for assisted suicides would lose their medical license as a result.

The lawmakers made similar arguments in a 2002 brief filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided in Oregon’s favor. In a statement, Oregon Right to Life said it disagrees with the lawmakers.

"Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law conflicts with the federally Controlled Substances Act by allowing doctors to use prescription drugs to kill their patients," ORTL political director Lois Anderson said.

"When there is a conflict between federal and state law, the appropriate place for a resolution is the U.S. Supreme Court," Anderson added.

Oregon Republicans Sen. Gordon Smith and Rep. Greg Walden did not sign the brief.

The nation’s high court is expected to take up the case in October when it begins its next term and, if the Senate confirms Roberts’ nomination, he too will be eligible to vote on the matter.

Wyden told the Bend Bulletin newspaper that, "If Judge Roberts is confirmed, the Oregon delegation will have today provided him with some important reading for his night table."

Since Oregon approved the assisted suicide law, the only one of its kind in the nation, more than 170 people have died in the suicides.

Pro-life groups oppose assisted suicide saying that doctors should not be authorized to kill patients. They say more focus should be put on better pain management, including hospice care.

The case is Gonzales v. Oregon, 04-623.