Death with Dignity Act Goes to High Court
Medical Authors and Editors: Barbara K. Hecht,
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
November 11, 2004 -- This week the White House asked the US Supreme Court to
block the Oregon law known as the Death With Dignity Act. The Oregon law permits
patients with less than six months to live to request a lethal dose of drugs
after two doctors confirm the diagnosis and determine the person's mental
competence to make the request.
In May of this year the 9th US Circuit Court of
Appeals had ruled that the federal government could not circumvent Oregon law
and punish doctors in Oregon who prescribed lethal doses of federally controlled
Basis for the Appeal
The federal government's appeal to the Supreme Court came from US Attorney
General John Ashcroft on November 9, the day that he tendered his resignation.
The government argues that assisted suicide is not a "legitimate medical
Basis for the Oregon Law
The State of Oregon believes that it has the right to regulate medical practice
in Oregon. The tradition in the US has been that the states, not the federal
government, have regulated medical practice.
This case, which is called Ashcroft v. Oregon, is an important one. It tests the
federal government's ability to overturn the will of the voters in a state and
prosecute physicians who are obeying state law. A federal government in favor of
states' rights believes it can trump the rights of the State of Oregon.
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Last Editorial Review: 11/11/2004