.- Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Attorney General does not have the authority to halt Oregon doctors from helping terminally ill patients to kill themselves. The case, Gonzales vs. the State of Oregon, protects--for now--a one-of-a-kind physician assisted suicide law called the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. Opponents say that the practice is hopelessly immoral and violates a doctor’s Hippocratic Oath of protecting life and preventing harm to patients.
The Supreme Court said that the Bush administration improperly attempted to use a federal drug act to regulate and punish doctors who tried to prescribe lethal drugs to terminal patients.
The decision came on a 6-3 vote, with new Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Thomas and Scalia, dissenting.
According to the syllabus of the case, the decision held that the U.S. Controlled Substances Act "does not allow the Attorney General to prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide under state law permitting the procedure."
The remarks rebuke an attempt by former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who declared the act illegal.
About 30 people a year exercise the so-called “right”, which is exclusive to the state of Oregon, but with the new ruling, some fear that other states could enact similar measures.
Dorothy Timbs, legislative counsel for the National Right to Life’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics said that, “The Court held that the use of federally controlled drugs for the purpose of assisting suicide is not ‘drug abuse’ because the physician is not facilitating drug addiction, but instead seeking to kill.”
“This”, she said, “is a shocking conclusion since one of the things that we most fear in drug abuse is danger to the life of the addict.”
She pointed out that “Nothing in the decision suggests that Congress lacks the constitutional authority to amend the Act to make clear that federally controlled drugs may not be used to kill people,” and called it a “dangerous precedent for all vulnerable Americans, especially those with disabilities and life or health-threatening illnesses.”
Likewise, Dr. John Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics center, expressed his profound disappointment at the Court’s ruling, saying that “those entrusted with the regulation of controlled substances are being denied the opportunity to carry out a very important exercise of their authority and oversight in a critical medical setting…”
He said that the Act diminishes “the quality of health care that is ultimately made available to suffering patients, and promoting the abuse of controlled substances.”
Adding that the act “deliberately takes the life of a person who receives his or her life as a gift from God,” Haas said that, “Physician-assisted suicide represents a fundamental violation of this gift and of human dignity."
Added Timbs: “Drugs should be used to cure and relieve pain, never to kill.”