Wednesday, January 18th, 2006
From the CSM
In reaching its determination, the high court said former Attorney General John Ashcroft overstepped his authority in November 2001 when he rewrote regulations under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) making it illegal for Oregon doctors to prescribe drugs to help a patient die.
“The authority claimed by the attorney general is both beyond his expertise and incongruous with the statutory purposes and design,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority. “The idea that Congress gave the attorney general such broad and unusual authority through an implicit delegation in the [Controlled Substances Act’s] registration provision is not sustainable.”
Mr. Ashcroft said that federally controlled drugs could be prescribed only for a “legitimate medical purpose,” and that helping someone to end his or her life was contrary to the healing mission of physicians.
Justice Antonin Scalia said in a dissent that Ashcroft’s directive should be accorded deference by the courts and allowed to stand. He added that he found reasonable the former attorney general’s conclusion that helping someone die was not a “legitimate medical purpose.”
“Virtually every medical authority from Hippocrates to the current American Medical Association confirms that assisting suicide … is not a ‘legitimate’ branch of that science and art,” Justice Scalia wrote. “If the term ‘legitimate medical purpose’ has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death.”
Scalia was joined in his dissent by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas.
In rejecting the so-called Ashcroft directive, the majority justices said the CSA is aimed at policing drug abuse, addiction, and narcotics trafficking rather than providing an avenue for federal micromanagement of state efforts to regulate healthcare and end-of-life issues.
This part–“The authority claimed by the attorney general is both beyond his expertise”–is the pattern.