By Gudrun Schultz

WASHINGTON, United States, January 19, 2006 ( – The U.S. Supreme Court said Attorney General John Ashcroft overstepped his authority in calling for prosecution of physicians who prescribed lethal drugs under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, in a ruling on Jan.17. The Court did not address the constitutional legality of Oregon’s assisted suicide law, which the attorney general was challenging.

Attorney General Ashcroft said it was unconstitutional, under the federal Controlled Substances Act, for Oregon to allow physicians to dispense lethal drugs, that assisting suicide was not “a legitimate medical purpose” and that prescribing federally controlled drugs for that purpose was against the federal law.

The attorney general filed an appeal with the Supreme Court after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant a new hearing to the court’s May decision upholding the Oregon doctor-assisted suicide law.

The Court’s ruling said the authority claimed by the attorney general was “both beyond his expertise and incongruous with the statutory purposes and design” of the Controlled Substances Act.

Opponents to doctor-assisted suicide, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life Committee, and the Family Research Council are calling for legislation revising the Controlled Substances Act to prevent the use of regulated drugs in assisted suicide.

“In no sense can assisting a suicide be called a ‘legitimate medical purpose’ for any drug,” said a statement from Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. “Congress now has an obligation to reaffirm that fact.”

Doerflinger said the court’s decision only addressed the issue of the attorney general’s authority over how federally controlled drugs are used.

“This by no means settles the legal or moral issues regarding assisted suicide,” he said, “but only changes the forum in which these must be addressed.”

Although the Supreme Court in 1997 unanimously upheld state laws prohibiting physician-assisted suicide, “it has not yet addressed the question whether Oregon’s law, allowing physician-assisted suicide for certain vulnerable persons, violates constitutional guarantees such as equal protection under law,” said Doerflinger. (CWN)

Oregon is the only US state allowing physician-assisted suicide.

See related LifeSiteNews coverage:

Dept of Justice Appeals Oregon Assisted Suicide Ruling
  White House Appeals Oregon Assisted Suicide Law to Supreme Court