Though John Ashcroft has left the
Justice Department, his religious conservative legacy lives
on in the
form of a lawsuit designed to overturn Oregon’s physician-assisted
suicide law. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case,
which up till now has hinged upon legal technicalities instead
the real issue: whether an individual has a right to commit
The Oregon law that is under attack permits doctors to prescribe
a lethal dose of drugs to a mentally competent, terminally
ill patient who makes written and oral requests, consults two
and endures a mandatory waiting period. The patient’s relatives
and doctors are powerless to engage in legalized “mercy
killing,” as they cannot make an application on the patient’s
behalf, and the patient himself administers the lethal dose.
Back in 2001, Ashcroft decreed that any doctor prescribing
such a dose would violate federal law against dispensing controlled
dangerous substances without a “legitimate medical purpose.” So
far, Ashcroft’s position has been rejected by the federal
courts, and now the Bush administration’s last chance
lies with the Supreme Court.
This case will allow the Court to revisit its 1997 decision
in Washington v. Glucksberg, which held that individuals have
constitutionally protected right of suicide, and hence no right
to obtain assistance in that act. The Glucksberg case looks
increasingly vulnerable to being overruled, especially in light
of the Court’s
2003 decision upholding the right of individuals to engage
in private homosexual acts, regardless of whether society or
may abhor homosexuality.
What the courts must grasp, if they are to justly resolve the
debate over assisted suicide, is that there is no rational,
secular basis upon which the government can properly prevent
from choosing to end his own life. Rather, it is religious
mysticism that energizes the Bush administration into attacking
dare to defy God’s divine plan.
Conservatives’ outrage at the Oregon law stems from the
belief that human life is a gift from the Lord, who puts us here
on earth to carry out His will. Thus, the very idea of suicide
is anathema, because one who “plays God” by causing
his own death, or assisting in the death of another, insults
his Maker and invites eternal damnation, not to mention divine
retribution against the decadent society that permits such
When religious conservatives use secular laws to enforce their
faith in God, they threaten the central principle on which
America was founded. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed,
the first time in the history of nations, that each person
exists as an end in himself. This basic truth—which finds political
expression in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness—means, in practical terms, that you need no one’s
permission to live and that no one may forcibly obstruct your
efforts to achieve your own personal happiness.
But what if happiness becomes impossible to attain? What if
a dread disease, or some other calamity, drains all joy from
leaving only misery and suffering? The right to life includes
and implies the right to commit suicide. To hold otherwise—to
declare that society or God must give you permission to kill
yourself—is to contradict the right to life at its root.
If you have a duty to go on living, despite your better judgment,
then your life does not belong to you, and you exist by permission,
not by right.
For these reasons, each individual has the right to decide
the hour of his death and to implement that solemn decision
he can. The choice is his because the life is his. And if a
doctor is willing to assist in the suicide, based on an objective
of his patient’s mental and physical state, the law should
not stand in his way.
If George W. Bush were to contract a terminal disease, he would
have a legal right to regard his own faith in God’s will
as paramount, and to instruct his doctor to stand by and let
him suffer, just as long as his body and mind could endure
the agony, until the last bitter paroxysm carried him to the
But the Bush administration has no right to force such mindless,
medieval misery upon doctors and patients who refuse to regard
their precious lives as playthings of a cruel God.
In the end, only the Supreme Court can thwart the designs
of conservatives who, by injecting religion into the bloodstream
of American law, seek to assist in our own national suicide.