The Supreme Court upheld Oregon's one-of-a-kind physician-assisted suicide law, ruling that the Bush administration improperly tried to use a drug law to prosecute Oregon doctors who prescribed overdoses to help terminally ill patients die. The justices, on a 6-3 vote, said that federal authority to regulate doctors does not override the 1997 Oregon law. "Congress did not have this far-reaching intent to alter the federal-state balance," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for himself, retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. New Chief Justice John Roberts backed the Bush administration, dissenting for the first time.
The ruling was a reprimand to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who in 2001 said that doctor-assisted suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose" and that Oregon physicians would be punished for helping people die under the law. Kennedy said the "authority claimed by the attorney general is both beyond his expertise and incongruous with the statutory purposes and design." Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for himself, Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, said federal officials have the power to regulate the doling out of medicine. "If the term 'legitimate medical purpose' has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death," he wrote. Oregon's law covers only extremely sick people -- those with incurable diseases, whom at least two doctors agree have six months or less to live and are of sound mind. -- by the Associated Press