Monday, October 19, 2009

A Lesson From the History of the Death with Dignity Movement: Marijuana, Assisted Suicide, and States' Rights.

reminds us of the GOP's hypocrisy regarding state's rights and medical marijuana. He quotes Salon's "Double G":

Beyond the tangible benefits to patients and providers, there is the issue of states' right. Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana, many by referendum. The Bush administration's refusal to honor or even recognize those states' decisions -- by arresting people for doing things which are perfectly legal under state law -- was one of many examples giving the lie to the conservative movement's alleged belief in federalism and limited federal power (see here, for instance, how John Ashcroft and GOP Senators tried deceitfully and undemocratically to exploit the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent Oregon from implementing its assisted suicide law). Constitutionally and otherwise, what possible justification is there for federalizing decisions about whether individuals can use marijuana for medical purposes? Ironically (given the "socialism" and "fascism" rhetoric spewed at it by the Fox News faction), the Obama administration's decision is a major advancement for the rights of states to have their laws respected by the federal government.

Greenwald refers to his own article from January 18, 2006, reminding us of the battle to make and keep Oregon's Death with Dignity law on the books, despite the federal government's outlandish and over-reaching attempts to strike it.

Unhappy with the outcome of democracy in Oregon, certain Republicans in Congress (led by Orrin Hatch and Henry Hyde) demanded that the Justice Department (through the DEA) revoke the federal registration of any doctors in Oregon who provide the death-inducing medication to the terminally ill patients who request it under the Oregon law. As the Supreme Court explained, the Justice Department refused to do so when Attorney General Janet Reno wrote to Hatch and Hyde, concluding:

that the DEA could not take the proposed action because the CSA did not authorize it to "displace the states as the primary regulators of the medical profession, or to override a state's determination as to what constitutes legitimate medical practice."

Unhappy with the notion that Oregon could make its own decisions about assisted-suicide, these same Republicans then introduced legislation in Congress in order to give the Attorney General authorization to revoke the federal licenses of any Oregon doctors who assisted in suicide under this law. These Republicans wanted to use federal law to override Oregon law despite the fact they have long claimed to be believers in "states’ rights" --
i.e., that the Federal Government’s power should be restricted and individual states should be able to make their own decisions in areas traditionally reserved to the states, which indisputably includes regulation of the doctor-patient relationship.

In any event, the Republican sponsors could not get their legislation enacted. Congress refused to provide the Attorney General with authority to revoke the registration of Oregon doctors who assist in suicide.

So, Republican opponents of Oregon's assisted suicide law tried and failed: (a) to have Oregon’s law repealed by referendum; (b) to induce the Justice Department to revoke the licenses of Oregon’s doctors who assisted in suicide; and (c) to enact legislation in Congress giving the Justice Department the right to revoke the registration of doctors assisting in suicide. Again and again, these crusaders were rebuffed by the democratic and legal processes.

We have witnessed the same hypocrisy regarding "activist judges" among the GOP. They applaud judicial activism when it up holds their objectives, and decry it when it doesn't. They also applaud the power of the voter unless the voter happens to put them out of power.

Now that two court cases (Montana and Connecticut) and one potential new referendum (New Hampshire) for Death with Dignity are in the works, it will be interesting to see how the GOP frames their views on Federalism and judicial activism.

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