This afternoon’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Oregon’s Death with Dignity law may bring that subject up again for national debate, but it seems more likely to ease it in Oregon.
Oregonians have, after all, faced the law on the ballot twice (it was first passed in 1994), and approved it twice. And for all the concerns, there’s been no evidence of actual abuse in the one state where physician-assisted death is legal: Just about 30 cases or s0 per year (a total over nearly a decade of around 200), in a state of more than three and a half million people. Those few, though, have some powerful stories to tell about the freedom they have in Oregon, but nowhere else in the nation.
In theory, this should have been a case supported by a states-rights-oriented Bush Administration: The Supreme Court’s specific rationale was that “The CSA 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.”
It also was conservative in another sense, arguing that you can’t (or in this case, John Ashcroft couldn’t) locate things in federal law that aren’t explicitly put there. The controlled substances law was designed to bar some substances from public consumption altogether, and to regulate the medical flow of some others; it didn’t define proper medical practices. In this case, the majority said, “The idea that Congress gave the Attorney General such broad and unusual authority through an implicit delegation in the CSA’s registration provision is not sustainable. ‘Congress, we have held, does not alter the fundamental details of a regulatory scheme in vague terms or ancillary provisions – it does not, one might say, hide elephants in mouseholes.’”
And extending that point (and pointing out the even larger significance of this decision): “Under the [federal] Government’s theory, moreover, the medical judgments the Attorney General could make are not limited to physician-assisted suicide. Were this argument accepted, he could decide whether any particular drug may be used for any particular purpose, or indeed whether a physician who administers any controversial treatment could be deregistered. This would occur, under the Government’s view, despite the statute’s express limitation of the Attorney General’s authority to registration and control, with attendant restrictions on each of those functions, and despite the statutory purposes to combat drug abuse and prevent illicit drug trafficking.”
Chew on that cud for a bit.
(The 6-3 Court breakdown, by the way: majority was Kennedy (author), Stevens, O’Connor, Souter, Ginsberg, Beyer; minority was Roberts, Scalia, Thomas.)Share on Facebook