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Do Your Job, Mr. Ashcroft

April 19, 2002

Judge Robert Jones did not mince words Wednesday when he ruled that Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft had no right to shut down Oregon's assisted suicide law. The federal district judge was so outraged by the attorney general's effort to overturn the will of Oregon voters, who twice approved the statute, that he gave voice to what many others had no doubt thought: Who does Ashcroft think he is?

"To allow an attorney general--an appointed executive whose tenure depends entirely on whatever administration occupies the White House--to determine the legitimacy of a particular medical practice

Oregon's assisted suicide law permits mentally competent patients who are terminally ill to ask their doctors for lethal drugs. From 1997, when the law took effect, through 2001, some 90 patients asked their physicians to help them die because they were racked with the pain of end-stage cancer or unable to feed themselves or even talk because of conditions such as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that terminally ill people have no constitutional right to be given help in dying, it acknowledged that the states are engaged in an "earnest and profound" debate on this issue. The court cited Oregon approvingly.

But Ashcroft, still looking for a way to cut off that debate, declared last November that doctors who prescribed drugs to hasten the death of terminally ill patients under Oregon's duly passed law would be prosecuted under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Ashcroft strongly opposes both assisted suicide and abortion.

Jones slapped a permanent injunction on Ashcroft's directive, allowing Oregon's law to remain in force if the attorney general appealed. He also charged that congressional foes of assisted suicide--after failing to win support for a federal ban--had gone through the back door, "seeking refuge" with Ashcroft, whose "ideology matched their views."

Judge Jones' ruling this week sent a sharp message to Ashcroft: You are not Congress, you are not president. The attorney general has more than enough to do in his own job.

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