I am no great fan of legalizing physician-assisted suicide (PAS). But once a state has gone down that road, as Oregon has with its Death With Dignity law
, it's exceedingly important for the federal government to get out of the way and not impose its pro-life political stance on states that see things a little differently. Just as this administration has done with California's experiment with medical marijuana, it has tried to squelch the Oregon initiative by leveraging its enforcement powers under the Controlled Substances Act. And just as it did last December in the California medical-marijuana case (Raich v. Ashcroft
), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week hammered the Department of Justice for its use of the Controlled Substances Act, this time to interfere with Oregon's experiment with PAS. In State of Oregon v. Ashcroft
, the judges scolded the Attorney General for "violating the plain language of the CSA, contravening Congress’ express legislative intent, and overstepping the bounds of the Attorney General’s statutory authority." Its concluding paragraph is sweeping in its condemnation of Ashcroft's attempt to impose his personal morality on the citizens of Oregon:
In sum, the CSA was enacted to combat drug abuse. To the extent that it authorizes the federal government to make decisions regarding the practice of medicine, those decisions are delegated to the Secretary of Heath and Human Services, not to the Attorney General. The Attorney General’s unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers interferes with the democratic debate about physician assisted suicide and far exceeds the scope of his authority under federal law. We therefore hold that the Ashcroft Directive is invalid and may not be enforced.
The irony in all this is that this most avowedly pro-State, anti-federalist administration hasn't hesitated to try to impose its will on the states when it perceived a hint of political mileage that might be gained with the far right, even when it means shamelessly trampling individual liberties and the traditional role of the states in regulating the practice of medicine.