Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Court to hear Oregon Suicide Law case

In 1997, Oregon passed a Death with Dignity law that allowed terminally ill patients to take medication that would end their lives. Last year, 208 Oregonians took advantage of that ability, roughly .1% of the total number of deaths in Oregon.
Now President Bush's administration is challenging Oregon's law under the premise that it is an improper use of medication and thus violates federal food and drug laws.

The article lists arguments from supporters and opponents of the law. Proponents point to the fact that the few people who do use it are highly educated, intelligent strong people who know what they are doing. They point out that the law allows people to elect to do so in a terminally ill position while not requiring it of anyone.

Opponents point out that undermines the traditional doctor's role as a healer, as the medicine kills you. They assert that it teaches elderly and sick people that their lives aren't worth protecting and that suicide isn't worth preventing.
I haven't done the research into the FDA regulations, nor am I likely to. I have too much on my plate with school and family to do so. My guess is that there's going to be some line in the FDA regs that says something to the effect of "medication must be used for some healing or treating purpose," and that the argument is that killing a person isn't treating them. Although, if you turn your brain around right, you could suggest that killing a terminally ill patient relieves them of their pain, which is what morphine drips and various other medications for terminally ill patients do. But I digress.

I sort of hope this turns on a 10th Amendment issue. This item is one that is not enumerated in the Constitution, and there are no federal laws pursuant to its prohibition. As such, it stands to reason that it should be relegated to the states. Isn't that the RvW argument?


Bookworm said...

The one thing that's stuck with me in the assisted suicide debate is a comment from a Dutch "ethicist" back about 20 years ago when Holland made euthanasia legal. He said it should never be legal in a place that, unlike Holland, does not have free medical care and free care for the aged, because the risk of family pressure on the expensive elderly or terminally ill would be too great.

English Professor said...

This is a fascinating topic because so many solid arguments can be made on both sides, as well as legitimate, reasonable concerns such as the one Bookworm mentions. I have recognized in myself the unfortunate tendency to let the amount of physical pain I am in at any given moment directly influence the way I feel about euthanasia. ;-) That's why we have sober ethicists to think about these things.

Cassie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cassie said...

Oregon made the decision on it's own and the federal government (ie. Bush)needs to stay out of it. States are either allowed to make their own decisions or they're not.

Steve said...

But Cassie,
Bush wouldn't make the decision. He's challenging the Court to do so. They've done this before with respects to privacy rights, such as the right to buy contraceptives and the right to abortions. Roe V. Wade was a decision that made abortions, which up to that time had been a state issue federal. Griswold v. Connecticut took a state's right to control who may issue contraceptives and made a federal rule out of it.
And the Federal Courts have ruled on the Right to Die in the past as well. In Washington v. Glucksberg, Chief Justice Rehnquist pointed out that almost every western democracy makes it a crime to assist suicide and that the has a "commitment to the protection and preservation of all human life. [Indeed[ opposition to and condemnation of suicide - and, therefore, of assisting suicide - are consistent and enduring themes of our philosophical, legal, and cultural heritages" (Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 707 (1997)). The conclusion was that a state has a 14th Amendment protection to outlaw assisted suicide.

It's not a far step from that ruling to one that would ban Oregon from allowing assisted suicide in any manner.

However, Washington and many other states allow doctors to medicate patients who are terminally ill to alleviate the pain of the disease from which they are suffering. Some of these medications do speed up the dying process, while not causing immediate death. It's also not a far step for one to argue that a medication given to alleviate the pain of a terminally ill patient that has the side effect of causing immediate death is not really any different.

As it stands right now, Oregon allows assisted suicide. They have voted on the matter twice and passed it both times. There doesn't appear to be any laws on the books that would prohibit the State from determining whether this should be allowed or not, so it looks like it should be something that is protected under the 10th Amendment. To rule otherwise and to take liberties with what various items in the Constitution mean with respect to this topic could be viewed as the very judicial activism that President Bush et al. speak out against.