National Medical Board


Yesterday the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Bush administration's appeal of a decision that barred it from overriding Oregon's assisted-suicide law. Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the Controlled Substances Act does not authorize the Drug Enforcement Administration to revoke the federal prescription licenses of doctors who help patients obtain drugs with which to kill themselves. It said "the attorney general's unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers interferes with the democratic debate about physician-assisted suicide and far exceeds the scope of his authority under federal law."

Like Ashcroft v. Raich, the medical marijuana case the Court heard last fall, this is a situation where the supposedly conservative Bush administration has abandoned federalist principles because it does not like state policy choices. Also like Raich, it raises the question of whether and to what extent the DEA will continue to use the Controlled Substances Act as a pretext to regulate the practice of medicine. In addition to declaring that marijuana and suicide are outside the proper scope of medicine, even when state law says otherwise, the DEA in effect decides who should receive narcotic painkillers for what purposes, in which doses, and for how long. If the courts do not rein it in, what (aside from manpower constraints) is to stop the DEA from scrutinizing every prescription decision involving a controlled substance and deciding on that basis which doctors should be allowed to continue practicing medicine?