Legitimizing murder … again

Commentary by ALL president Judie Brown

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Gonzales v Oregon, is continuing its pattern of ruling against traditional morality. Once again the dignity of the human person and his innate identity as a member of the human race was subjugated to the false argument of "choice" divorced from right reason. There can be no personal right to die that trumps respect for human dignity – at least not in a civilized society.

Attorney general Alberto Gonzales had asked the court to reverse the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the United States government could not criminalize the process of doctors prescribing of drugs designed to bring about the death of their patients. The majority ruled that killing is a scientific or medical matter. In so doing the court ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services, not the attorney general's office, had to enforce a regulation which would prohibit the use of drugs for the intended purpose of ending the life of a patient.

The Supreme Court syllabus of its opinion states in part (with citations omitted):


The Controlled Substances Act (CSA or Act), which was enacted in 1970 with the main objectives of combating drug abuse and controlling legitimate and illegitimate traffic in controlled substances, criminalizes, inter alia, the unauthorized distribution and dispensation of substances classified in any of its five schedules. The Attorney General may add, remove, or reschedule substances…

The Oregon Death with Dignity Act (ODWDA) exempts from civil or criminal liability state-licensed physicians who, in compliance with ODWDA's specific safeguards, dispense or prescribe a lethal dose of drugs upon the request of a terminally ill patient. In 2001, the Attorney General issued an Interpretive Rule to address the implementation and enforcement of the CSA with respect to ODWDA, declaring that using controlled substances to assist suicide is not a legitimate medical practice and that dispensing or prescribing them for this purpose is unlawful under the CSA.

The Attorney General may add, remove, or reschedule substances only after making particular findings, and on scientific and medical matters, he must accept the findings of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Held: The CSA does not allow the Attorney General to prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide under state law permitting the procedure."

In the dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas responded that the law states: "The Attorney General may add, remove, or reschedule substances," which gives the attorney general power to prohibit physicians from prescribing and poisonous drug for the specific purpose of causing death.

The dissent states in part:


Contrary to the Court's analysis, this case involves not one but three independently sufficient grounds for reversing the Ninth Circuit's judgment.

First, the Attorney General's interpretation of "legitimate medical purpose" is clearly valid, given the substantial deference we must accord it under Auer v. Robbins, and his two remaining conclusions follow naturally from this interpretation.

Second, even if this interpretation of the Regulation is entitled to lesser deference or no deference at all, it is by far the most natural interpretation of the Regulation — whose validity is not challenged here….

Third, even if that interpretation of the Regulation were incorrect, the Attorney General's independent interpretation of the statutory phrase "public interest" and his implicit interpretation of the statutory phrase "public health and safety" are entitled to deference.

Clearly these three justices rightly perceive the practice of medicine as a craft committed to healing and caring, not killing. The sad fact is that the majority of justices do not see this as the proper role of physicians which is, in point of fact, not that surprising. After nearly thirty-three years of unregulated killing of the preborn, is it any wonder that the Supreme Court would now condone the direct killing of the terminally ill?

The tragic decision the Supreme Court handed down on January 17 can be changed in one of three ways.

The first way would be for President Bush to nominate two additional justices to the Supreme Court, if given the opportunity to do so, who would view the law as protective of innocent human beings rather than permissive with regard to the direct killing of those persons.

The second way would be for Congress to examine the law that the majority of the Supreme Court relied on when making this deadly decision, and amend that law in such a way that the federal government can exercise a compelling interest in defending the lives of the vulnerable rather than permitting the direct killing of such people.

The third, and perhaps the most likely way to reverse the decision, would be for the secretary of Health and Human Services to publish a regulation stipulating that the proper practice of medicine does not include an abusive use of drugs for the purpose of helping the vulnerable to take their lives by what is commonly referred to as "assisted suicide."

Regardless of which way is ultimately followed in a humane effort to reverse this disastrous Supreme Court decision, it is incumbent upon each of us who value the precious right to life to make it known to our elected officials that we are not only distressed over the decision, but also adamant in our demand that Congress stem the deadly tide that has redefined the practice of medicine as an occupation that legitimizes direct murder.