Guest / Limited Access /

The United States attorney general overstepped his bounds when he tried to stop the state of Oregon from implementing its 1997 physician-assisted suicide bill, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a 6-3 decision.

In 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a directive "that assisting suicide is not a 'legitimate medical purpose' … and that prescribing, dispensing, or administering federally controlled substances to assist suicide violates the CSA [Controlled Substances Act]."

Using such drugs to assist with suicide could lead to "suspension or revocation" of a doctor's medical license, Ashcroft wrote.

Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the Controlled Substances Act did not give Ashcroft "such broad and unusual authority." The attorney general, the Court said, has no expertise in medical matters.

"The statute and our case law amply support the conclusion that Congress regulates medical practice insofar as it bars doctors from using their prescription-writing powers as a means to engage in illicit drug dealing and trafficking as conventionally understood," Kennedy wrote. "Beyond this, however, the statute manifests no intent to regulate the practice of medicine generally."

In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the CSA's "legitimate medical purpose" clause is not limited to the regulation of illicit drugs.

"If the term 'legitimate medical purpose' has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death," Scalia wrote.

Scalia was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts, for whom this was his first dissent.

Thomas wrote an additional dissent, noting that last year's Gonzales v. Raich decision, which allowed Congress to ban the medical ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueOur Back-from-Prison Family
Subscriber Access Only Our Back-from-Prison Family
In the suburbs of Chicago, a growing community gathers around those released from prison—and those headed back in.
Recommended
Subscriber Access Only Is Suicide Unforgivable?
Question: What is the biblical hope and comfort we can offer a suicide victim's family and friends? —name withheld
TrendingWhy Most Pastors Aren’t Answering Your Phone Calls
Why Most Pastors Aren’t Answering Your Phone Calls
It's one the great mysteries of ministry. Why do pastors have such a bad reputation for answering or returning phone calls? Here are 9 reasons.
Editor's PickHow Churches Change the Equation for Life After Prison
How Churches Change the Equation for Life After Prison
One of the hardest days of incarceration may be the day it ends. The church can be there to make a difference.
Christianity Today
Supreme Court Upholds Oregon's Suicide Law
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

January 2006

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.