Supreme Court Ruling Gives Boost to Doctor-Assisted Suicides
BY MICHAEL FOUST © 2005 Baptist Press
n a major victory for supporters of physician-assisted suicide, the U.S. Supreme Court on January 17 said the federal government cannot prohibit Oregon doctors from prescribing lethal amounts of medicine to patients who want to kill themselves.
The 6-3 ruling was the first high-profile decision under new Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in the dissent. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.
The case pitted a federal law, the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, against Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, passed by voters in 1994. Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act to help combat drug abuse and to assist in the control of both legal and illegal drugs. The Oregon law allows someone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given six months or less to live to request a lethal dose of medicine from their doctor. A second physician also must agree with the diagnosis. The doctor prescribes the drug but does not administer it.
In 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, citing the Controlled Substances Act, issued an order that basically barred physicians from giving lethal amounts of drugs to patients. Ashcroft argued that assisted suicide "is not a 'legitimate medical purpose'" under the federal law. His order made it a crime for physicians to prescribe lethal amounts of drugs. Oregon then sued Ashcroft; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took over the case when Ashcroft left the administration. Oregon also won at the trial court and appeals court levels.
Writing for the majority, Kennedy said that under the Controlled Substances Act, Oregon has the leeway to legalize assisted suicide. Kennedy further said that the federal law is silent on the issue of assisted suicide and that Ashcroft did not have the power under the law to issue his order.
"If the attorney general's argument were correct," Kennedy wrote, "his power to deregister [doctors] necessarily would include the greater power to criminalize even the actions of registered physicians, whenever they engage in conduct he deems illegitimate. This power to criminalize
would be unrestrained."
Ashcroft's order, the majority argued, "goes well beyond the attorney general's statutory power" as defined by the Controlled Substances Act.
Defiant Anglicans Demand Apology From Episcopal Church
Conservative Anglicans want an apology from the Episcopal Church for approving a gay bishop, along with a clear turn back to the Bible, an Asian archbishop who helps lead an Anglican splinter group said on January 12.
"If the Episcopal Church refuses to apologize and continues to walk apart, we will not follow," Archbishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung of Southeast Asia said in an interview at a meeting of the Anglican Mission in America.
The Anglican Mission in America began in 2000, with Chung and other Anglican bishops ordaining ex-Episcopal priests to serve as missionary bishops to the United States.
The Episcopal Church--the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion--has refused to recognize the Anglican Mission, but has complained about its bishops crossing traditional boundaries and working in the United States.
Episcopal leaders say the U.S. church has already apologized for disrupting the life of the communion, as called for in a high-level report issued by Anglican leaders in London. "The House of Bishops has expressed our regret for any damage to the bonds between us, and our desire for a sense of healing and reconciliation," said Alabama Bishop Henry Parsley.
Chung said he felt confident that reaching out to disaffected Episcopalians was biblical and warranted, despite objections of Episcopal Church leaders. "We need the approval of God," he said. "We don't need the approval of men."
"We were concerned about the continuing erosion of the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Christ and the compromise of salvation issues," Chung said. "Those were already danger signs. Once you compromise that, there's no more Gospel to preach."
Chung retires as an archbishop on Feb. 20, when he turns 65, relinquishing his role as a sponsor of the Anglican Mission. Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda will continue to provide the main supervision.
If the U.S church continues to embrace gay rights and stray from what Third World Anglican leaders see as clear teachings of the Bible and traditions of the church, Asian and African archbishops will continue to support sending missionaries to the United States, Chung said. "This movement will grow. God will bless those who preach the Gospel," he said. "If a church doesn't preach the Gospel, it doesn't have a future."
Report: 104,000 New York Jews Live in `Near Poverty'
More than 100,000 New York City-area Jews live in "near poverty," according to a recent survey by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
The survey found that 104,000 Jewish individuals living in 53,400 households find it extremely difficult to make ends meet every month.
An additional 244,000 New York Jews live below the government-defined poverty level, according to a previous report.
In all, a third of all Jews living in the five boroughs of New York, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, find it difficult or impossible to pay their bills, said the Metropolitan Council, based in New York.
The Dec. 28 report noted that the households, which may include several family members, subsist on no more than $35,000 annually, barely enough to cover the cost of food, medicine and transportation. For many, synagogue membership, kosher food and Jewish school tuition are beyond their reach.
Those living near the poverty line were equally divided between Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular or unaffiliated Jews, the survey found. Nearly two-thirds completed high school, while 41 percent have a college degree. Fifty-six percent are women. "The gap exists because so many Jewish `near poor' have salaries that make them ineligible for most forms of means-tested governmental programs," the report said.
"We have to face the fact that the near-poor need our assistance as much as or more than the poor," William Rapfogel, the Met Council's director, said at a press conference to mark the survey's publication.
The survey urged the Jewish organizations to provide the near poor with greater assistance in the areas of job training, affordable housing and health care.