On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the Justice Departments challenge to Oregons assisted-suicide law, known as the Death with Dignity Act.
The Oregon law was passed by a narrow margin in 1994 and upheld against an effort to repeal the law in 1997. The Death with Dignity Act allows adult patients with terminal diseases and only six months of life to receive assisted suicide by lethal medication.
Last year, former Attorney General John Ashcroft spearheaded a movement to make prescription of lethal medication a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act. In the case of Gregory vs. Ashcroft, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court blocked Ashcrofts efforts, ruling that the regulation of medical practices is under state jurisdiction, and is beyond the authority of the federal government. Ashcroft appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
Tuesdays announcement that the Supreme Court will hear the case, now called Gonzales vs. Oregon, was applauded by groups who oppose the Oregon law.
David Stevens, M.D., Executive Director of the Christian Medical Association, said, The Court has an opportunity to insure that patients receive truly compassionate care and pain relief by limiting physicians use of narcotics for healingnot death.
As the time-tested Hippocratic oath asserts, the role of a physical is to use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never to injure or wrong them, said Dr. Stevens. The reason physicians have taken this oath for centuries is to preserve their patients rights and the healing authority of the medical profession.
"We don't need to empower physicians to administer lethal doses of narcotics. We need to empower physicians to administer truly pain-relieving doses of narcotics. We need to send a message that even in our darkest hours, life is still worth living, that loved ones will come alongside to help, and that doctors will treat pain effectively and compassionately--not with a lethal prescription."
The Supreme Court will hear the case during the next session, which is set to begin in October.