Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Another reason to watch the Supreme Court this year

The United States Supreme Court has made many headlines this year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Most of the news has been about new judicial appointments and how they may affect the future of the court and, by extension, our country. But now there is another good reason to watch the action on the court this year and an opportunity to see how John Roberts will lead.

In Gonzales v. Oregon, the Supreme Court is being asked to determine whether federal laws regulating drug use trump Oregon's right to legalize assisted suicide. Previously the Court has found that there is no right to assisted suicide but that states have the authority to regulate the practice. US attorney General Alberto Gonzales contends that the US Controlled Substances Act prohibits physicians from prescribing lethal doses of drugs for terminally ill patients, which is exactly what Oregon's Death with Dignity Act allows. This claim is based upon the supposition that such a use of drugs is not a "legitimate medical purpose."

It is unlikely that the dispute will be settled on the basis of whether or not assisted suicide is a legitimate medical practice and more likely that the matter will revolve around the rights of states to legislate practices, such as medicine, within their own state. However, the arguments in this case will help set the stage for further public debate about assisted suicide. And given that three of the justices have themselves battled cancer and that the court just lost Justice Rehnquist to cancer, it is impossible for this issue not to engage the justices on a personal level.

Although the hearing began today in Washington and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor participated in the questioning, it is not clear that she will be voting on this issue. If she leaves before the court rules and the remaining justices are split 4-4, arguments will be held over until O'Connor's replacement joins the bench.

Regardless of who votes or what the outcome is, this is destined to be a landmark decision in the history of the assisted suicide movement.

1 comment:

Devin said...

So much for small government