The US Supreme Court has voted 6-3 to support the Oregon legislation that allows physician-assisted suicide. Euthanasia opponents fear that the door is now open for other states to allow euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. The court ruled that the federal Controlled Substances Act does not allow the U.S. Attorney General to prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority decision against Attorney General John Ashcroft who brought the suit against the Oregon government saying that under the Controlled Substances Act, prescription drugs could not be prescribed to take life.
Justice Kennedy wrote, that the “authority claimed by the Attorney General is both beyond his expertise and incongruous with the statutory purposes and design.”
Concerned Women for America (CWA), the largest public policy women's organization in the US, responded, “The Attorney General did not act without consultation when he issued his ruling that assisting suicide is not a ‘legitimate medical purpose,’” said Jan LaRue, CWA's chief counsel. LaRue said the ruling is inconsistent: “Marijuana is a Schedule I drug that may not be prescribed.”
“Congress' determination is based on the ethical rules of every medical association, including the American Medical Association and the Oregon Medical Association, which both opposed the Oregon law,” La Rue said.
Justice Antonin Scalia in the minority, dissenting view, wrote, “If the term 'legitimate medical purpose' has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death.”
The recently confirmed Chief Justice, John Roberts, was also in the dissenting minority in the decision in this, his first ethics case.
The Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit litigation, education and policy group, said the ruling further undermines the legal protection of the sanctity of life.
Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, said, "When a physician participates in a person's suicide by administering controlled substances, the line between healer and executioner is blurred, and the sanctity of life is lost. America should not become like Sweden, where patients wonder whether a physician with a syringe brings life or death.”
Since controlled substances are regulated under federal law, permitting such drugs to be used to end life compels all Americans to indirectly become complicit in euthanasia,” Staver said.
Proponents of the Oregon law claim that a series of “safeguards,” similar to those in place in the Netherlands, protect vulnerable patients. The law requires that patients be in the final six months of terminal illness, must make two oral requests and one written request to die, separated by a two-week period and be “mentally competent” to make the decision. The diagnosis must be confirmed by two doctors and the lethal prescription of drugs must be prescribed by a doctor and administered by patients themselves.
Since the law has been enacted, most of those who have killed themselves have been cancer patients. A recent Dutch study has shown, contrary to the euthanasia advocate’s claims, that patients requesting euthanasia or PAS are four times more likely to be depressed than those who do not request to die.