An attempt by Attorney General John Ashcroft to block Oregon's voter-approved assisted-suicide law (see story, page 3) raises a flurry of questions.
Should the federal government interfere with state regulation of medical practices? A 1997 US Supreme Court ruling on assisted suicide left the ultimate decision up to the states.
Is Mr. Ashcroft right to apply federal antinarcotics law to drugs used for assisted suicide? Such law can be used to ban "medical marijuana," according to the high court. The drugs used in Oregon are regulated, though not illegal, as marijuana is.
Did philosophical or political positions drive this decision?
Ashcroft and many others oppose assisted suicide on ethical and religious grounds. Indeed, the practice could be abused, with interests other than those of the patient coming into play. And at what point is the possibility of recovery ruled out?
Still, Oregon's law ensures that a patient's conscious choice is paramount. Many people, reportedly, find it comforting to know that they have this option. Cutting it off seems an unneeded intrusion on individual prerogatives, just as suicide itself seems an intrusion on the sanctity of life.