Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Gonzales v. Oregon

Doctor assisted suicide has been an issue here in Oregon for quite some time now.  Normally I would expect a radical and liberal type issue like this to come up in California first and then slowly make it’s way across the country as the general population succumbs to Hollywood's values.  OK, that’s not an absolute, but there’s no denying that the influence of entertainment on cultural values is great.

So a few years ago the State of Oregon voted, by referendum, to allow doctors to prescribe medication to end the life of an individual who was diagnosed as having an illness or condition that would end that person’s life within 6 months, and that the person would be in great pain and anguish during that interim time period.

Opponents of that measure have been fighting it ever since.  Today, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Oregon law by a vote of 6-3.  I won’t bore you with who voted against it, you should know the answer to that question.  It’s a left/right hot-button issue, think about it.  (Here’s a history of articles regarding Assisted Suicide at the Oregonian.  It’s not a very complete one, nor do all the links work for some reason.)

Let’s get one thing out of the way:  I don’t like the law.  I have a real problem with doctors helping people to die, instead of helping them to live and heal, as they are supposed to.  It’s part of their oath on becoming doctors.  Surveys have shown that the vast majority of doctors will NOT prescribe terminal medication, and rightly so.  It should be voluntary at the very least.

I also think that the decision to terminate your own life is bereft of wisdom.  That extends from my Christian learning.  I realize that I’ve never been in the position that people in the position of knowing they are going to die are in.  I just can’t believe that I would be willing to out-think God in the decision as to when my life is supposed to actually end.  For a Christian it would actually be an affront to God, basically saying to God, “I don’t like what you have planned here and I’m taking things into my own hands.”  Biblical doctrine states that means pretty crappy afterlife for you.

But, since we life in a secular society here, I’m not sure I can stand up and say that I’m going to use the Government to stop people from making their own decisions in this area.  I’m generally anti-government intrusion into peoples lives, and I’m very much a state’s-rights proponent.  Does the constitution of this country really allow the federal government to control this issue? 

The tool that Atty. General Gonzales pulled out of the federal toolbox was the Federal Narcotics laws.  Remember – narcotics laws are an extension of the modern interpretation of the interstate commerce clause of the constitution.  Since that clause, as well as the issue of state’s rights, is in the middle of so much debate right now, I think that we can add this judicial decision to that fray for both reasons.

The swing voter in this decision wasn’t O’Connor (although she voted in the affirmative as well), it’s Kennedy, no stranger to being the swing man himself, who authored the decision.  Dahlia Lithwick in Slate:

      Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker recently explained why Kennedy sometimes parts company with his buddies on the court's hard right wing. Of the court's conservatives, only he has an abiding affection for all things foreign, including—to the intense chagrin of some of his colleagues—foreign law. Kennedy's pragmatic reason for citing to foreign courts as a means of fostering worldwide legal respect is a part of his rather grand vision for the lofty role of the Supreme Court in government.

      But another key to understanding Kennedy's role as a swing voter is simpler: He just really, really likes the power. In his book Closed Chambers, Edward Lazarus, a former clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun, writes that Kennedy bragged about his ability to occupy one of the pivotal positions on the court, deliberately and craftily espousing views at conference that would make him a "necessary but distinctive fifth vote for a majority." Like O'Connor, Kennedy may be a legal politician before he is an ideological purist. And with O'Connor soon to be out of the picture, Kennedy may now get the chance to really make some constitutional hay.

Oh, great, that makes me feel so much better about having him on the court as opposed to Alito.  She pulls this quote from his opinion in the recent gay-rights case:

      ... times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.

You mean like this one?  Or Roe v. Wade? 

I haven’t seen lots of comments on the Blogs yet.  So this is just up for discussion.  Does the constitution speak to this issue?  Do the feds have the right to shut down the State of Oregon by using federal drug laws?

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