Supreme Court Will Hold Hearing on Assisted Suicide in Two Weeks

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 20, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Supreme Court Will Hold Hearing on Assisted Suicide in Two Weeks Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 20, 2005

Washington, DC ( — If the Senate approves John Roberts’ nomination next week, President Bush’s first nominee for the Supreme Court will be thrown in the middle of an intense battle over the issue of assisted suicide. That’s because the high court will soon take up a debate between the Bush administration and the state of Oregon.

On October 5, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case where the Bush administration is defending its determination that federally controlled drugs should not be used in assisted suicides in Oregon, the only state to legalize the grisly practice.

The Bush administration says the Controlled Substances Act allows it to regulate drugs that shouldn’t be used without a legitimate medical purposes. All of the drugs used in the assisted suicides in Oregon fall under that category.

Doctors who oppose Oregon’s law show that it’s not needed because several other states like Hawaii, Vermont, Maine and Michigan, have rejected approving assisted suicides.

"It’s an anomaly," Dr. Kenneth Stevens of Physicians for Compassionate Care told the Associated Press. "Assisted suicide is a reversal of the proper role of a doctor as a healer, comforter and consoler to an improper role of the physician causing a patient’s death."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has filed a brief in the case backing the Bush administration and USCCB spokesman Richard Doerflinger told AP Oregon "is sending a very negative message to sick, elderly and vulnerable patients that their lives are not worth protecting and their suicides are not worth preventing."

Euthanasia opponents points to flaws in the Oregon law that allow people like Don James, a terminally ill cancer patient, to obtain the drugs for the assisted suicide from doctors when they aren’t planning to take it.

"I’m just going to tuck this away," the 79-year-old retired school administrator told AP about his prescription for a lethal dose of drugs to take his life. "If things become dreadful and unpleasant, I will consider using it. It’s my decision either way."

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."