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A Faerie's Farthing

Flitting through the internets looking for sparkly bits. All content mine and not to be reproduced without permission.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Death With Dignity? Not With Alito

Death With Dignity? Not With Alito

The good news is that the Supreme Court recently upheld Oregon's Assisted-Suicide Law; the bad news is that the addition of Alito to the nation's highest court would likely endanger this and other personal rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court, bolstering the right-to-die movement, ruled that the Bush administration overstepped its authority by trying to block an Oregon law that authorizes doctor-assisted suicide.

The justices, voting 6-3, today said the Justice Department can't use the U.S. Controlled Substances Act to bar physicians from prescribing lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients, as Oregon law permits. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was among the dissenters.

The ruling is a major victory for patient advocates, preserving a first-of-its-kind law that may serve as a model for other states. More than 200 people have killed themselves using drugs prescribed under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, which took effect in 1997.

The majority said the Justice Department and former Attorney General John Ashcroft had encroached on the traditional power of states to regulate the practice of medicine.


Given Alito's tendency to support the executive branch and expand its powers, we can't count on him to rule in a similarly restrained manner.

The Bush administration position would ``effect a radical shift of authority from the states to the federal government to define general standards of medical practice in every locality,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court.

Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter voted with the majority.

Roberts joined Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in dissent. Scalia's opinion for the group said the court should have deferred to the Justice Department's approach.

...Oregon voters approved the measure twice, in 1994 and 1997, the second time with 60 percent favoring the law. Court challenges kept the law on hold until October 1997.


The balance is especially precarious in light of Thomas' and Roberts' statements during their nomination hearings. In both cases, the nominees said all the "right" things during the confirmation process, but proceeded to rule in direct contradiction of their statements once appointed to the bench.

Prior to his confirmation hearings, then-Judge John Roberts had a conversation with our Senator Ron Wyden.

While they didn't discuss the Death With Dignity law directly, he seemed to indicate that he would look favorably upon it. Of course, earlier today Roberts voted with Justices Scalia and Thomas in a dissent against upholding it.

A look back to August 10, 2005:

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts declared that, in cases dealing with end-of-life care, he would "start with the supposition that one has the right to be left alone," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said after the two met for an hour Tuesday. ...

Roberts told Wyden that he would look closely at the legislative history of federal laws and would be careful not to strip states of powers they traditionally have held -- such as regulating the practice of medicine, Wyden said.

The death with dignity act was upheld on a 6-3 split - adding Alito to the bench would tilt the balance precariously toward intrusive government regulation of deeply personal decisions - where is the vaunted federalist philosophy now?


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