Justice Department Files Appeal in Attempt To ‘Strike Down’ Oregon’s Assisted-Suicide Law
The Department of Justice on Monday filed an appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in an attempt to "strike down" Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, the AP/Oregonian reports. U.S. District Judge Robert Jones ruled in April that the federal government does not have the authority to interfere with the law. Attorney General John Ashcroft is seeking to "sanction and perhaps hold Oregon doctors criminally liable" if they prescribe a fatal dose of drugs to patients who request it (Kravets, AP/Oregonian, 9/23). Under the Death with Dignity Act -- which was approved by Oregon voters in 1994 and 1997 and is the only law of its kind in the nation -- terminally ill patients are permitted to request a lethal dose of drugs if two doctors have determined that the patients have less than six months to live and are mentally competent. Patients must administer the drugs themselves (California Healthline, 5/28). Past attempts by the DOJ to overturn the Oregon law have failed in the courts. DOJ attorney Jonathan Levy wrote in the appeal that the federal Controlled Substances Act, which outlines the drugs that doctors may prescribe, also allows the federal government to "conclud[e] that suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose."
However, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers (D) said that the Controlled Substances Act was meant to stop doctors from trafficking in illegal drugs, while "regulating and licensing doctors generally has been the sole responsibility of the states"; therefore, according to Myers, judgments about medical practice are up to the states. Marc Spindelman, an Ohio State University College of Law scholar, believes that Oregon's case will not be upheld because of the precedent it would set. "If it's the case that states have the right to regulate medical practice, why then couldn't states regulate other medical practices, potentially, even including abortion?" Spindelman said. The state has about a month to file opposition papers and the court has not set a date to hear the appeal. Oregon officials report that at least 91 people have committed physician-assisted suicide under the law (AP/Oregonian, 9/23).
NPR's "All Things Considered" reported yesterday on the appeal of Oregon's assisted suicide law (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 9/23). The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.