Supreme Court Considers Challenge to Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act: Gonzales v. Oregon and the Right to Die

March 04, 2006
On October 5, 2005, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Gonzales v. Oregon, a case arising from the conflict between Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) and the U.S. attorney general’s interpretation of the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). The federal law controls the distribution of drugs by regulating those who are registered to prescribe and dispense them, and by assigning drugs to categories of risk or medical usefulness. Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act permits physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to certain terminally ill patients, who may then choose to end their own lives. The law was initially enacted in 1994 through a voter initiative, but a court injunction delayed its implementation until 1997, when voters again approved the measure in a second referendum. The court then lifted the injunction. Almost immediately, federal legislators and executive branch officials focused on the Oregon law’s potential conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act....