Oral Argument: 05 -'06 Term
Subject: Physician-assisted suicide, Ashcroft directive, Controlled Substances Act, Oregon Death with Dignity Act
A group of Oregon residents, including a doctor, a pharmacist, and several terminally ill patients, sued the United States Attorney General to challenge an interpretive ruling of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The rule, referred to as the "Ashcroft Directive," declared that the use of federally controlled substances to assist someone in committing suicide violates the CSA, and should not be considered a "legitimate medical purpose." This ruling placed the CSA in direct conflict with Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe medication to end the life of a terminally ill patient.
Does Oregon have the constitutional right to disregard the United States government and permit physicians to assist patient suicides with federally controlled substances (narcotics)? Or is the federal government entitled under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to prevent these federally regulated drugs from being prescribed for lethal use regardless of state law?
In my opinion, a state does not have the right to reject a federal law, especially in this case. Oregon is violating the principle of federalism by seeking to prevent the federal government from pursuing its own legitimate public policy. In the just-announced Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the federal government is entitled to enforce the CSA's prohibition of the use of marijuana -- even though California laws permit the drug to be possessed legally for medicinal purposes and the marijuana in question was clearly being used by California residents for medicinal purposes. The federal government is entitled to enforce federal law against medical marijuana users even in the face of contrary state laws, a ruling that is clearly applicable to the assisted-suicide controversy. Being that the Court found this...