New York Times (registration may be required):
PORTLAND, Ore., Jan. 17 – Just 30 terminally ill people exercise a right each year that is unique in America to the state of Oregon, hastening their deaths with a lethal dose of drugs prescribed by doctors.
The Supreme Court decision on Tuesday rejecting the Justice Department’s effort to block the state’s Death With Dignity Act will allow such suicides to continue, but it may not have the broad impact people on both sides of the debate are predicting.
There is no reason to think that the pace of physician-assisted suicides will quicken in Oregon. And the decision lends little support, one way or the other, to the efforts to enact similar laws around the country that have stalled since the Oregon law was enacted in 1994.
The Supreme Court’s ruling was, in fact, notably focused and technical. It did not address whether there is a constitutional right to die. It did not say that Congress was powerless to override state laws that allow doctors to help their patients end their lives.
It said only that a particular federal law, the Controlled Substances Act, which is mainly concerned with drug abuse and illegal drug trafficking, had not given John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, the authority to punish Oregon doctors who complied with requests under the state’s law. The law allows mentally competent, terminally ill patients to ask their doctors for lethal drugs.
The hardest thing about living in a democratic society is letting people do things to themselves that a majority might find morally repulsive.
We need to treat people how we would want to be treated, but we can’t legislate them to live the way we would want them to live. Or die. We have to allow people to destroy themselves if that is the choice they make, with consequences if those choices negatively impact the rights of another person.
It doesn’t matter what I would do in a similar situation. It only matters that a consenting adult has the right to choose whatever path they want for themselves. If a state supports that right for the people who live in that state, then the government has no business stepping in. I can judge the person picking suicide over life. I can hate them. I can call them dirty names. I have no right as a citizen or a policy-maker in this country to use my own morality as a barometer and manipulate existing law to dictate the choices of another. In the United States it’s the Constitution that is the guiding document…no other book, good or not, need apply.