Legal and Ethical Issues for Health Professionals Discussion

Legal and Ethical Issues for Health Professionals Discussion

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Hence, do not include statements such as great work, or excellent post. Try to include information that is challenging and respectful and that will stimulate debate. Additionally, please remember that simply posting the main post and a student colleague response post does not end the forum; the discussion forum should be dialogue that is continual until the Sunday deadline. Also, be mindful of including references and citations whenever citing facts to support your position.

1) What was the ruling in the case and how did the Commerce clause impact the case?

In 1994 Oregon enacted the ‘Death with Dignity Act’ which allowed doctors to prescribe controlled substances to terminally ill patients as a physician assisted suicide. In 2001, then Attorney General John Ashcroft declared the practice of physician assisted suicide illegal is it violated the ‘Controlled Substances Act of 1970’[i].

Oregon decided to sue Attorney General John Ashcroft in federal district court. The Ninth Circuit determined that Attorney General John Ashcroft’s declaration was illegal. The Ninth Circuit decided that under the ‘Controlled Substances Act of 1970’, Attorney General John Ashcroft did not have the authority to regulate physician assist suicide. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit stated that this matter was a state matter. The Supreme Court held that standing of the Ninth Circuit and added that the ‘Controlled Substances Act’ was intended to keep physicians from drug dealing and not regulate a state’s medical practices.[ii]

2) Do you agree with the court’s ruling? Why or why not?

The court’s ruling that physician assisted suicide is not regulated by the ‘Controlled Substances Act of 1970’ was the apparent correct decision. The ‘Controlled Substances Act of 1970’ was intended to prevent illicit drug sale, trade and trafficking. As it reads:

(1) Many of the drugs included within this subchapter have a useful and legitimate medical purpose and are necessary to maintain the health and general welfare of the American people.

(2) The illegal importation, manufacture, distribution, and possession and improper use of controlled substances have a substantial and detrimental effect on the health and general welfare of the American people.

(3) A major portion of the traffic in controlled substances flows through interstate and foreign commerce. Incidents of the traffic which are not an integral part of the interstate or foreign flow, such as manufacture, local distribution, and possession, nonetheless have a substantial and direct effect upon interstate commerce because-

(A) after manufacture, many controlled substances are transported in interstate commerce,

(B) controlled substances distributed locally usually have been transported in interstate commerce immediately before their distribution, and

(C) controlled substances possessed commonly flow through interstate commerce immediately prior to such possession.[iii]

As the wording states, there are direct and indirect relations of drugs and interstate commerce. Oregon physicians were not necessarily affecting interstate commerce but were using substances that had once been transferred interstate. However, the “improper use”[iv] of the drugs is not described in the act. There is no regulation within the act that describes specifically how physicians are to legally and properly prescribe controlled substances. Therefore, the courts ruling is in line with both the act and the Commerce clause.

3) Does this ruling close the door to federal regulation of physician suicide? Should we have such regulation?

The court’s ruling in Gonzales v Oregon does not necessarily close the door to physician assisted suicides. There is a possibility that congress could argue that the controlled substances intended use does not fall in-line with assisted suicide, and the court’s have left the decision to define such terms like ‘improper use’ or ‘legitimate medical purposes’ up to the legislative branch.


[i] Gonzales v. Oregon, Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/2005/04-623 (last visited Mar 9, 2020).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Congressional findings and declarations: controlled substances, Controlled Substances Act, Title 21 U.S.C. §801 (1970).

[iv] Id.