Legal Briefs

Gonzales v. Oregon

In 1994, Oregon voters passed a ballot initiative establishing the “Death with Dignity Act,” a controversial measure that legalized physician-assisted suicide through the administration of lethal doses of medication to patients within six months of dying from a terminal illness. In 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft filed a directive declaring that any physician administering a lethal dose of medication under the Death with Dignity Act would be in violation of the Federal Controlled Substance Act. Oregon challenged this directive. Arguing in support of the state of Oregon, this Cato brief stresses that regulating physician-assisted suicide within individual states is beyond the scope of the federal government’s powers. Ashcroft’s intervention in this situation undermines the Tenth Amendment’s specific command that powers not delegated to the federal government be reserved to the states. Constitutional principles and precedents favoring state and local laws suggest that Ashcroft’s directive should be invalidated.

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