Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Oregon Assisted Suicide Case

Oregon is the only state that legislatively authorizes physician assisted suicide.  Oregon Death With Dignity Act, Ore. Stat. §§ 127.800 - .897.

In 2001, United States Attorney General John Ashcroft determined that assisted suicide was not a legitimate medical practice and thus doctors who prescribe the deadly drugs would be in violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

In Oregon v. Ashcroft, 368 F.3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2004), the court held that this attempt to hold physicians criminally responsible if they help terminally ill patients commit suicide exceeded Ashcroft’s authority under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  The court stated,

“To be perfectly clear, we take no position on the merits or morality of physician assisted suicide.  We express no opinion on whether the practice is inconsistent with the public interest or constitutes illegitimate medical care.  This case is simply about who gets to decide.  All parties agree that the question before us is whether Congress authorized the Attorney General to determine that physician assisted suicide violates the CSA.  We hold that the Attorney General lacked Congress’ requisite authorization.  The Ashcroft Directive violates the “clear statement” rule, contradicts the plain language of the CSA, and contravenes the express intent of Congress.”

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari on February 22, 2005.  Gonzales v. Oregon, 125 S. Ct. 1299 (2005).

Oral arguments are scheduled for today, October 5, 2005.


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