''Assisted Suicide Law'' Upheld in Oregon

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refuses to reconsider May decision to uphold the controversial ''Death with Dignity Act''
( [email protected] ) Aug 18, 2004 02:11 PM EDT

A federal appeals court refused to reconsider the decision to uphold Oregon’s “assisted suicide law,” on August 16.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was urged to reconsider the May decision of a three-judge circuit panel, which ruled that the federal government couldn’t override the state’s voter-approved Death With Dignity Act.

The so-called “Death With Dignity Act,” a 1997 legislation passed only in Oregon, has “assisted” in the suicide of 171 people; last year alone, some 42 people decided to end their lives through doctor-prescribed drugs.

Supporters of the bill say that terminally ill patients who have the mental competence to discern the situation and who have less than six months to live should have the choice to end their lives. Opponents call it a violation of life.

Shortly after the bill passed, Thomas Constantine, administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency at the time, deemed the prescription of federally regulated drugs for suicide a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

However, the Attorney General Janet Reno overturned Constantine’s decision, saying that the federal law does not permit the government to take action against the physicians themselves. When Ashcroft retook the office after Reno, he immediately reversed her highly criticized ruling, and instead declared that the use of drugs regulated by the federal Controlled Substance Act in assisted suicide is not allowed. Ashcroft’s ruling did not overturn Oregon’s voter-approved law, but rather threatened the medical-licenses of the doctors who prescribe and dispense federally controlled substances to aid in suicide.

In May, the three-panel court blocked the enforcement of Attorney General Ashcroft’s 2001 ruling.

The Court of Appeal’s recent this week upheld the three-panel court’s decision, on the basis that no judge has “requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter. ” The court also said that a majority of the San Francisco-based court's 25 full-time judges voted against a rehearing.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said no decision has been made on a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.