Assisted Suicide


Background: On November 6, 2001, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memorandum in which he determined that assisting suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose" for prescribing, dispensing, or administering federally controlled substances. This applies to any state, including Oregon, which has had a physician-assisted suicide law in effect since 1997. This memorandum overturns the June 5, 1998 opinion issued by then-Attorney General Janet Reno.

Judicial: On November 7, 2001, the state of Oregon filed a lawsuit challenging the authority of U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft to issue his memorandum.

U.S. District Court Injunction: On April 17, 2002, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones issued a permanent injunction enjoining enforcement.

Ninth Circuit Appeals: On May 26, 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled 2-1 that in issuing his directive Attorney General Ashcroft exceeded his authority and that the injunction by Judge Jones is continued in force. In his dissent, Judge Wallace argued that nothing in the Controlled Substances Act or legislative history “authorizes the majority to deny deference to the Ashcroft Directive.” On July 12, 2004, the federal government appealed the decision, petitioning for panel rehearing and for rehearing by the entire Ninth Circuit court of appeals (en banc). On August 11, 2004, the Ninth Circuit denied the government petitions for rehearing.

U. S. Supreme Court: On November 9, 2004, the federal government appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court (Docket 04-623). On February 22, 2005, the Court announced that during the upcoming October term the Ninth Circuit’s decision will be reviewed. The case has been renamed Gonzales v. Oregon. Oral arguments were heard on October 5, 2005.