Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Living With A Right To Die

Newly coronated anointed appointed Chief Justice John Roberts will sit today for his first case as a member of the Supreme Court. The case, Gonzalez vs. Oregon, represents the Bush Administration's displeasure with the State of Oregon's Death With Dignity law, which [via Medical News Today]:

...allows physicians to prescribe, but not administer, lethal prescription drugs to a terminally ill patient after two physicians agree that the patient has less than six months to live, has decided to die voluntarily and can make health care decisions. In 2001, [Former Attorney General] Ashcroft issued a directive that said assisted-suicide serves "no legitimate medical purpose" and warned physicians who prescribe controlled narcotics to assist in patient suicides under the Oregon law that they could face criminal penalties and license suspension or revocation. Ashcroft argued that the law violates the federal Controlled Substances Act.

This interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act is largely the same as that upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year, in a decision that effectively allowed federal prosecution for medical marijuana use even in states where the use of such is legal. Isn't it interesting that the Bush Administration and its social conservative supporters are against the use of judicial power to curtail state's rights except in cases where such is in opposition to their rigid social agenda. Smells of hypocrisy to me...

Further, the Bush Administration is clearly not on the same side as the majority of the American people, which, again, is a litmus test conservatives often use to belittle their ideological opponents except in cases where the conservative opinion is in the minority. When the issue is Creationism, in which most Americans believe, the conservatives support the "voice of the people" but when it's Death With Dignity, suddenly they cry "tyranny of the majority!". But, I digress...

From Public Agenda:

Polls also show that over the past half century, the percentage of Americans who say that doctors should be allowed to help end an incurably ill patient's life painlessly when the patient and the patient's family request it has doubled to about 70 percent.

Though, in the interest of fairness:

[W]hen the question is posed in less abstract terms -- such as modifying the question to include the phrase "assisted suicide" -- support dwindles, and supporters only slightly outnumber opponents. There also seems to be a distinction in the public's mind between what they would choose for themselves and what they would choose for others[.]

The change in attitude, I believe, is due to the religious and moral connotations that are carried by words such as "suicide", and not due to any substantive inconsistencies in Americans' moral views.

As is true with most of the Bush Administration's social policy, opposition to the Death With Dignity Act has little to do with the public good and everything to do with throwing red meat to the religious social conservatives that support Bush. This case is just another facet of the so-called "Culture of Life (Except For Executions, Wars and Non-Humans)" that Bush likes to wax poetic about in his stump speeches. It's not any kind of firm public policy but rather Bush's belief that the American people are better off when their moral choices are made for them by the church and its advocates in the government. Very Straussian, very neo-conservative.

My hope is that the Supreme Court upholds a precedent of an implied Right to Privacy, which I believe does exist and does protect end-of-life issues from government interference. John Roberts claims to respect precedent but the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, after all.

[Thanks to reader MZ for the topic suggestion!]

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