OU Disappointed with U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Upholding Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law

Posted on January 17, 2006 In Press Releases, Physician Assisted Suicide

Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – through its Institute for Public Affairs, expressed disappointment with a 6-3 ruling by United States Supreme Court overriding the power of the U.S. Attorney General to block the State of Oregon’s first-in-the-nation law permitting assisted suicide.

At issue in the case of Gonzales v. Oregon is a November, 2001 directive issued by then-Attorney General Ashcroft to the D.E.A. Administrator which reinstated the understanding of the federal Controlled Substances Act that was in place until former-Attorney General Reno issued a policy directive allowing the use of federally controlled drugs for assisted suicides in June, 1998. The Attorney General’s directive determined “that assisting suicide is not a ‘legitimate medical purpose’ within the meaning of [the Controlled Substances Act]” and, just as significantly, the directive stated that the use of federally controlled drugs for pain treatment ought to be “promoted.” The State of Oregon challenged the directive in defense of its “Death With Dignity” law and a federal trial court ruled in the State’s favor in April, 2001. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations has worked diligently in recent years with other concerned groups such as the American Medical Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to achieve this policy goal. The Union, joining with other religious groups, filed a friend of the court brief in this case arguing that there is no “legitimate medical purpose” which might allow for the possibility of using federally controlled drugs under federal law and further contends that Oregon has no cognizable “state interest” which the federal government must defer to regarding this issue.
In ruling against the Attorney General, the Court’s majority (in an opinion authored by Justice Kennedy) based its conclusion upon the jurisprudence of the parameters in which the executive branch can interpret ambiguous statutory terms without sufficiently clear congressional authorization for the interpretation being propounded.

Nathan Diament, director of the Union’s Institute, issued the following statement in connection to this morning’s Supreme Court ruling: “The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations is disappointed with the Court’s ruling in this case. For millennia, Judaism has taught the infinite value and sanctity of human life and that we must seek to preserve it, while at the same time taking all responsible measures to comfort the ill. The Bible instructs us to “surely heal” the ill, not to speed their departure from this earth. But we realize that while the Court has foreclosed the ability of the Attorney General to prevent this practice, the ruling merely opens a new chapter in the debate over the legitimacy of assisted suicide. We are determined to join with our coalition partners and those in Congress who recognize the dangers of assisted suicide and work to enact legislation which will promote the values of caring properly for the ill.