Gonzales v. Oregon: Roberts' First Dissent

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

This morning the first Supreme Court decision was released in which Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, and he did so with the court's most conservative members: Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Anyone who hoped Roberts wouldn't be as conservative as the man he replaced has no reason to smile:

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the Bush administration's attempt to punish doctors who help terminally ill patients die, protecting Oregon's one-of-a-kind assisted-suicide law.

The administration improperly tried to use a federal drug law to pursue Oregon doctors who prescribe lethal doses of prescription medicines, the court said in a rebuke to former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The 6-3 ruling could encourage other states to consider copying Oregon's law, used to end the lives of more than 200 seriously ill people in that state. The decision, one of the biggest expected from the court this year, also could set the stage for Congress to attempt to outlaw assisted suicide.

"Congress did not have this far-reaching intent to alter the federal-state balance," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority — himself, retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Scalia said in his dissent that the court's ruling "is perhaps driven by a feeling that the subject of assisted suicide is none of the federal government's business. It is easy to sympathize with that position."

At the same time, Scalia said federal officials have the power to regulate doctors in prescribing addictive drugs and "if the term 'legitimate medical purpose' has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death."
To make a long story short, the court had to determine if lethal prescriptions serve a "legitimate medical purpose." If so, the federal government has no business telling states they can't regulate their own suicide laws. If the practice doesn't serve a "legitimate medical purpose" then the feds have every reason to step in.

The moderate and liberal justices saw a legitimate purpose; the conservatives did not. On this case I agree with the majority, and believe those with a sound mind who wish to die should be able to do so using comfortable means. I don't see how Justice Scalia could not see the legitimacy of physician-assisted suicide.