Supreme Court Upholds Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law

(SUPREME COURT) -- The Supreme Court is backing Oregon's assisted suicide law.

In a six-to-three vote, justices rejected a Bush administration effort to punish doctors who help terminally ill patients die.

The court says the 1997 Oregon doctor-assisted suicide law trumps federal power to regulate doctors. The Oregon law has been used to end the lives of more than 200 seriously ill people.

The court rejected a Bush administration attempt to use a federal drug law to prosecute doctors for prescribing overdoses.

Then-Attorney-General John Ashcroft said in 2001 that doctor-assisted suicide isn't a "legitimate medical purpose." Oregon's law covers only very sick people.

Two doctors have to agree the patient has six months or fewer to live and is of sound mind.

Ruling called "Landmark"

"It's a landmark case" -- like the court's landmark decisions on segregation and abortion.

That's how the Death With Dignity National Center describes today's Supreme Court ruling that affirms Oregon's assisted suicide law.

A spokesman with the assisted suicide advocacy group says he's "absolutely thrilled" by the decision. In a six-to-three vote, justices dismissed the Bush administration's attempt to use a drug law to prosecute doctors who prescribe overdoses.

In the majority decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy says Congress didn't intend "to alter the federal-state balance" with the the drug law.

In the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that federal officials have the power to regulate medicine.

He says if "legitimate medical purpose has any meaning" it must exclude prescribing drugs to kill. He was joined by Justices John Roberts and Clarence Thomas.

Copyright 2006 By The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.