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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

AND IN OTHER NEWS: Federalism. Statutory Construction. Autonomy and the "Right to Die."

It's cold in hell these days. And the latest reason has nothing to do with SCOTUS nominees or rogue law school directors. Rather, that snowball rolling around down there owes its existence to the one-day love-fest liberals will be having tomorrow with the idea of states' rights. [cf. this article by liberal activist, er, law professor Erwin Chemerinsky]

Tomorrow, Wednesday 10/5/05, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in what amounts to the first Culture of Death case of the term: Gonzales v. Oregon (f/k/a/ Oregon v. Ashcroft). [For a fairly-balanced overview of the case, with links to the briefs, click here.] Wading through arguments about personal autonomy and the "right to die," the Court will decide whether a state (Oregon) has the authority to carve out an exception to a federal law (the Controlled Substances Act) for itself in order to enact a state law allowing the prescription of lethal doses of barbituates for those determined to kill themselves.

Little will likely be said about the substance of the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, beyond the arguments by the parties that the Ashcroft Directive in question either will or will not serve to gut the Act. The United States will argue (insincerely) that even if Oregon is prevented from allowing the misuse of certain prescription drugs due to the CSA, there will be all sorts of other pills doctors can over-prescribe in order to kill their patients. ("Mabel, be a dear and bring over those bottles of Viagra....") Oregon will argue (even more insincerely) that unless its doctors are allowed to violate the CSA, its depressed citizens will have no means of killing themselves and will be forced to live. Egad.

And while Oregon's attorneys try valliantly to argue that this case isn't about controlled substances (federal issue) but the practice of medicine (state issue), it's unlikely that anyone will make this rather obvious point: the Oregon DWDA is intended to kill people. It's not medicine, folks, and for those who care it also does not meet the criteria for a just law under Thomas' definition.

So while the left changes colors for the day and demands "states' rights" in order to fit its particular agenda of unfettered autonomy -- damn the consequences -- just remember that this is not a case in which the federal government has usurped a state right. To the extent the CSA is valid federal law (and while the Cato folks will tell you that's anything but settled, this is not an issue before the Court tomorrow), the Ashcroft Directive is necessary...and proper...to prevent abuse.

And in the "why does this matter anyway" column, here's a thought: why is it that in one of our states a person who suffers from a terminal illness, or one who suffers pain on a chronic basis, and who perhaps goes through a phase of depression, is "assisted" in killing himself or herself? In Michigan, a doctor who did this is sitting in prision creating bad art...but in Oregon this same doctor would be celebrated as a champion of autonomy. Why is it that in 49 states, the sick person on the ledge is encouraged -- begged -- to come down and save himself, but in one state he's encouraged to jump? Oh, and he's given a doctor to help push (and to ensure that the death is about as protracted, inhumane, and generally undignified as possible)?

I don't have answers to this one, other than to ask that those reading this renew their committment to upholding the value of every human life, regardless of stage or state. Even if that state is a bowl of granola like Oregon.

[Here is additional information from the good guys and some other good guys and (equal time and all) the bad guys.]