Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – through its Institute for Public Affairs, welcomed the decision by the United States Supreme Court to review 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 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 worked on a bipartisan basis with Senators Don Nickles (R-OK) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) to achieve this result legislatively through the Pain Relief Promotion Act of 2000, but was unsuccessful.
Nathan Diament, director of the Union’s Institute, issued the following statement:
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations supports the position taken by the Attorney General and the Bush Administration which pursues a policy consistent with ancient Jewish values recognizing the infinite value and sanctity of human life and seeking 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. The Attorney General’s directive restricting the resort to physician assisted suicide was the correct law and policy on this matter, and, we believe, well within the power of the federal government to determine.
The Union expects to file a “friend of the court” brief in support of the Attorney General’s position when the high court hears the case next fall. More information about the Union’s activities and the perspective of Orthodox Judaism on this issue can be accessed at