By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Bush administration overstepped its authority when it barred doctors from helping terminally ill patients die in the only state that allows physician-assisted suicide, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
In a stinging defeat for the administration, the high court ruled on a 6-3 vote that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft impermissibly interpreted federal law in 2001 to bar distribution of controlled drugs to assist suicides, regardless of the Oregon law authorizing it.
“We conclude (the federal law’s) prescription requirement does not authorize the attorney general to bar dispensing controlled substances for assisted suicide in the face of a state medical regime permitting such conduct,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said for the majority.
The Oregon law, called the Death with Dignity Act, was twice approved by the state’s voters. The only state law in the nation allowing doctor-assisted suicide, it has been used by more than 200 people since it took effect in 1997.