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Tuesday, January 17th 2006

Oregon Assisted Suicide Upheld

I’m pleased with this. I’m just not sure it was decided right.

On an sad note, the three most conservative judges – the ones I would hope would uphold the idea of federalism – were the ones who voted against Oregon.

The case was one of definition. The ruling actually centered on the U.S. Controlled Substance Act and the meaning of the act’s term, “legitimate medical purpose”. Ashcroft, in the suit, basically claimed the executive branch’s authority to provide depth to this ill defined term. It’s probably the judicial branch’s role to do so, and now they have spoken, under the CSA assisted suicide is a “legitimate medical purpose”.

Certainly it is impossible to know for certain what congress intended by this term, if it was to protect the practice of physician assisted suicide. But it is likely they didn’t intend it to do so.

In matters of definition only, shouldn’t that be the basis on which courts interpret laws? On what the legislature intended?

As Scalia said,

The court’s decision today is perhaps driven by a feeling that the subject of assisted suicide is none of the federal government’s business. It is easy to sympathize with that position

The court did not have the courage to say that assisting those who wish to die is a protected act, and instead only limited law enforcement’s ability to prosecute under current legislation. Don’t be surprised if Congress acts to specifically outlaw assisted suicide as a criminal act with new more definitive laws. Maybe that will force the court’s hand; but probably only make them shy away.