John Roberts Will Follow Rule of Law on Assisted Suicide, Euthanasia

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 15, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

John Roberts Will Follow Rule of Law on Assisted Suicide, Euthanasia Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 15, 2005

Washington, DC ( — Supreme Court nominee John Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that he will follow the rule of law when it comes to end of life questions such as euthanasia and assisted suicide. As with abortion, Roberts would not provide his views of past or upcoming cases that will appear before the high court.

"There are cases that come up exactly in that context … before the court," Roberts said. "I will confront them with an open mind. They won’t be based on my personal views. They will be based on my understanding of the law."

"There is a case pending on the docket right now that raises the question of whether or not state legislatures have a prerogative to lay down rules on certain end of life issues," Roberts explained.

In fact, the Supreme Court will hear a case about whether the federal government can restrict the kinds of drugs used in assisted suicides in Oregon, the only state allowing that practice, under the Controlled Substances Act. All of the drugs used to kill patients there involved drugs regulated under federal statute.

If the high court agrees with the Bush administration, that could effectively end assisted suicide in Oregon.

Roberts’ noncommittal answers may be a stumbling block for some Democrats who favor abortion and assisted suicide, like Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.

"We are rolling the dice with you judge," Biden told Roberts during his question and answer session about the vague answers.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who opposes abortion, told Roberts, "If people can’t vote for you, then I doubt that they can vote for any Republican nominee."

In a 1997 case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that no right to assisted suicide exists, but states could decide whether to allow assisted suicides to take place.

In the cases, Washington v. Glucksburg and Vacco v. Quill, the court upheld laws against assisted suicide in Washington and New York.

On an interview that year with the PBS news program "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," Roberts appeared to support the decisions.

"The right that was protected in the assisted-suicide case was the right of the people through their legislatures to articulate their own views on the policies that should apply in those cases of terminating life, and not to have the court interfering in those policy decisions," Roberts explained. "That’s an important right."

With regard to Terri Schiavo, pro-life lawmakers in Congress and Florida are pursuing legislation that would require courts and doctors to presume that incapacitated patients, like Terri, would want to have food and water unless they stated otherwise in an advance directive such as a living will.

Robert’s comments in the 1997 interview make it appear he would uphold such laws.