Friday, May 28, 2004

Trying to return with some good news, chapter four

There may be - certainly can be - some difference of opinion as to whether or not this, relating to Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law, is good news, but I think it is. From the New York Times, May 27.
A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the only law in the nation authorizing doctors to help their terminally ill patients commit suicide. The decision, by a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said the Justice Department did not have the power to punish the doctors involved.

The majority used unusually pointed language to rebuke Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying he had overstepped his authority in trying to block enforcement of the state law, Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

"The attorney general's unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers," Judge Richard C. Tallman wrote for the majority, "interferes with the democratic debate about physician-assisted suicide and far exceeds the scope of his authority under federal law." ...

"We express no opinion on whether the practice is inconsistent with the public interest or constitutes illegitimate medical care," Judge Tallman wrote. "This case is simply about who gets to decide."

The states do, the court ruled.
The law became effective in 1997; the Times notes that about 30 people a year have taken advantage of it since that time. That's about 0.1% of all deaths, hardly the flood of people ending their lives for transient reasons or on whims, contrary to predictions of opponents, who said it would undermine the respect for life - as if hanging on to the painful, excruciating, wasted-away, hollow-cheeked, gasping end advanced it.

Footnote: Cigarettebuttcroft relied on the Controlled Substances Act, under which doctors can be penalized for prescribing drugs for anything other than legitimate medical purposes. The court found that the law did not apply because it was meant to fight drug abuse, not regulate what constitutes medicine.
Judge J. Clifford Wallace, in a dissenting opinion, said the attorney general had the authority to issue his directive.

"There is simply no textual support for the majority's conclusion that 'the field of drug abuse,' as discussed in the Controlled Substances Act, does not encompass drug-induced, physician-assisted suicide," Judge Wallace wrote.
In other words, the DOJ had the authority to prosecute because the law didn't specifically say it couldn't.

This guy must be wrangling for a Supreme Court nomination in the event of a second Bush term.

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