Supreme Court allows death with dignity

News & Politics

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that Oregon's first-of-its-kind physician-assisted suicide law is constitutional and will be allowed to stand.

The 6-3 ruling is a major blow to the Bush Administration, which has been fighting the law since it took office in 2001. But this case is significant for many reasons. First off, it's a landmark legal ruling to give sick individuals the right to decide for themselves when they want to die. Secondly, it's the first major ruling we've seen from our new Chief Justice Roberts, which leads right into the big picture:

The three most conservative judges on the bench -- Scalia, Thomas and Roberts -- united in dissent on this case, choosing to grant more power to the federal government instead of giving people dignity and privacy with their own biggest decisions.

Even the LA Times called them out on this one:

By ruling in favor of Oregon, the court majority took a traditional view held by conservatives while the dissenting justices took the historically liberal view in favor of federal authority.

Oregon voters have twice approved the Death With Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill patients to obtain lethal medication through a physician. Under the 1997 law, two doctors must confirm that a patient was capable of making an independent decision and was likely to die within six months. More than 200 people in Oregon have used the law to end their lives.
Here we have so-called conservatives standing tall for the principle of a big federal government that meddles in the daily affairs of its citizens. This is yet another case of "Republicans' blind obeisance to the party line," as my esteemed colleague Joshua Holland aptly put it last week.

On NPR this morning, legal correspondent Nina Totenberg put it even more bluntly. When asked what this ruling says about our new chief justice, she responded, "Well, it probably tells us that he's about as conservative as perhaps his opponents might have feared, and his supporters had hoped."

The Washington Post has posted excerpts from the rulings:

Justice Kennedy:
The government's claim that the attorney general's decision is a legal, not medical, one does not suffice, for the Interpretive Rule places extensive reliance on medical judgments and views of the medical community in concluding that assisted suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose. The idea that Congress gave him such broad and unusual authority through an implicit delegation is not sustainable.
And Justice Thomas, in dissent:
While the scope of the (act) and the attorney general's power thereunder are sweeping, and perhaps troubling, such expansive federal legislation and broad grants of authority to administrative agencies are merely the inevitable and inexorable consequence of this court's Commerce Clause and separation-of-powers jurisprudence.
Although in this case the addition of Samuel Alito's conservative vote to the bench would not have tipped this opinion, seeing the strength of the hard-line conservative phalanx as it appears on this issue gives me great concern about the coming decades at the High Court.

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