The Bush administration pressed the Supreme Court on Wednesday to block doctors from helping terminally ill patients end their lives, arguing that the state of Oregon's law allowing physician-assisted suicide violates federal drug laws.
Oregon in the Pacific northwest is the only state that lets dying patients obtain lethal doses of medication from their doctors, although other states may pass laws of their own if the high court rules against the federal government. Voters in Oregon have twice endorsed doctor-assisted suicide, but the Bush administration has aggressively challenged the state law, the AP reports.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor immediately challenged Clement, asking if federal drug laws also prevented doctors from participating in the execution of murderers.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said he found it "odd" that the attorney general determined physician-assisted suicide to be an abuse of drug laws, when the state of Oregon strictly limited how the drugs could be administered and in what cases.
The case, the first major one to come before the new chief justice, John Roberts, will be heard by justices touched personally by illness. Three justices _ O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens _ have had cancer, and a fourth _ Stephen Breyer _ has a spouse who counsels young cancer patients who are dying.
In 1997 the court found that the terminally ill have no constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide. O'Connor provided a key fifth vote in that decision, which left room for state-by-state experimentation.
Dozens of spectators gathered outside the court before arguments began, waving signs supporting the Oregon law. "My Life, My Death, My Choice," read one sign. "Who should decide? Me" said another. AM
Rescuers found the pilot of one of the two Su-34 fighters that had collided in midair in the Far East on January 18