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Gonzales v. Oregon

Supreme Court of the United States

October 5, 2005, Argued ; January 17, 2006, Decided

No. 04-623

Opinion

 [*248]  [**911]   Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before us is whether the Controlled Substances Act allows the United States Attorney General to  [*249]  prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide, notwithstanding a state law permitting the procedure. As the Court has observed, "Americans are engaged in an earnest and profound debate about the morality, legality, and practicality of physician-assisted suicide."  Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 735, 117 S. Ct. 2258, 138 L. Ed. 2d 772 (1997). The dispute before us is in part a product of this political and moral debate, but its resolution requires an inquiry familiar to the courts: interpreting a federal statute to determine whether executive action is authorized by, or otherwise consistent with, the enactment.

In 1994, Oregon became the first State to legalize assisted suicide when voters approved a ballot measure [****13]  enacting the Oregon Death With Dignity Act (ODWDA). Ore. Rev. Stat. § 127.800 et seq. (2003). ] ODWDA, which survived a 1997 ballot measure seeking its repeal, exempts from civil or criminal liability state-licensed physicians who, in compliance with the specific safeguards in ODWDA, dispense or prescribe a lethal dose of drugs upon the request of a terminally ill patient.

] The drugs Oregon physicians prescribe under ODWDA are regulated under a federal statute, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA or Act). 84 Stat. 1242, as amended, 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq The CSA allows these particular drugs to be available only by a written prescription from a registered physician. In the ordinary course the same drugs are prescribed in smaller doses for pain alleviation.

A November 9, 2001, Interpretive Rule issued by the Attorney General addresses the implementation and enforcement of the CSA with respect to ODWDA. It determines that using controlled substances to assist suicide is not a legitimate medical practice and that dispensing or prescribing them for this purpose is unlawful under the CSA. The Interpretive Rule's validity under the CSA is the issue before us.

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546 U.S. 243 *; 126 S. Ct. 904 **; 163 L. Ed. 2d 748 ***; 2006 U.S. LEXIS 767 ****; 74 U.S.L.W. 4068; 19 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 49

ALBERTO R. GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al., Petitioners v. OREGON, et al.

Prior History:  [****1]  ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

 Oregon v. Ashcroft, 368 F.3d 1118, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 10349 (9th Cir. Or., 2004)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

regulation, controlled substance, prescription, registration, dispensing, medical purpose, deference, suicide, delegation, interpretive rule, medical practice, public interest, Directive, drugs, provisions, scheduling, medicine, assisted suicide, state law, practitioner, prescribing, register, patients, physician-assisted, interprets, promulgate, deregister, public health and safety, addiction, terms

Healthcare Law, Medical Treatment, End-of-Life Decisions, Assisted Suicide, Criminal Law & Procedure, Controlled Substances, Substance Schedules, General Overview, Criminal Offenses, Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, Federal Preemption, Delivery, Distribution & Sale, Elements, Administrative Law, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Rule Interpretation, Deference to Agency Statutory Interpretation, Governments, Federal Government, Executive Offices, Relations Among Governments, Legislation, Interpretation