Suicide Bombers? I Thought You Said Suicide Doctors!


When last we heard from Attorney General John Ashcroft, he was warning the American public of an imminent terrorist attack whose location, scope, and method  were entirely unknown. Rather foolishly, Chatterbox assumed this meant federal agents would focus like a laser on the potential threat. The Drug Enforcement Administration, for example, could move swiftly to bust anyone in possession of anthrax spores. Whoops—Chatterbox forgot—possessing anthrax spores isn’t against the law! OK then, how about getting DEA agents to bust doctors in Oregon who, in compliance with state law, are helping terminally ill patients to die? That’s kind of like terrorism, isn’t it?

Ashcroft today reversed a Clinton administration decision in 1998 to allow Oregon to implement its “Death With Dignity Act” without federal interference. Janet Reno, who was attorney general at the time, explained that the federal Controlled Substances Act

was intended to keep legally available controlled substances within lawful channels of distribution and use. It sought to prevent both the trafficking in these substances for unauthorized purposes and drug abuse. The particular drug abuse that Congress intended to prevent was that deriving from the drug’s “stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic effect on the central nervous system.” There is no evidence that Congress, in the CSA, intended to displace the states as the primary regulators of the medical profession, or to override a state’s determination as to what constitutes legitimate medical practice in the absence of a federal law prohibiting that practice. Indeed, the CSA is essentially silent with regard to regulating the practice of medicine that involves legally available drugs except for certain specific regulations dealing with the treatment of addicts.

One would think that an administration headed by an ex-governor and committed to bringing government out of Washington and closer to the people would be inclined to let the state of Oregon set its own policy within this realm of great moral uncertainty. Under ordinary circumstances, it probably would. But euthanasia is a major bugaboo to the National Right to Life Committee, which immediately after Ashcroft issued his reversal put out a press release praising the decision. If Ashcroft can’t get Roe v. Wadereversed for them, at least he can do this.