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Whose Agenda Is It Anyway?

Fall 2004

Whose Agenda Is It Anyway?
As John Ashcroft took leave of his post as U.S. Attorney General, he fired a parting shot at Oregon's aid-in-dying law. He filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to hear an appeal of Oregon v. Ashcroft.

By doing so, he signaled that opposition to Oregon's way of empowering patients at the end of life runs deeper than his single post. It indicates that religious conservatives at all levels of the administration are likely to continue the battle against Oregon and against aid-in-dying for years to come. Driven by a conservative religious agenda, virulent attacks seem out of step with traditional Republican values of self-determination, restraint of government interference, states' rights, and personal responsibility.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has already written that aid in dying is a matter for individual states to decide. If the court respects its own precedent, it will deny Ashcroft's appeal," said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion and a chief petitioner of Oregon's unique law. "Even after three court victories, Compassion must once again marshal resources to oppose the Department of Justice and keep aid-in-dying available."

Ashcroft opened his attack on Oregon patients and their doctors on November 6, 2001. His directive attempted to reverse the legal analysis of his predecessor, Janet Reno, and instruct the Drug Enforcement Administration to prosecute physicians for prescribing life-ending medication to terminally ill, mentally competent Oregonians. Compassion in Dying's legal team has represented 14 patient plaintiffs during the three-year court battle. Once again Compassion will muster the legal muscle necessary to ask the Supreme Court to reject the Ashcroft petition. We are cautiously hopeful the highest court in the land will decline to hear this case. We must bring all our dedication and available resources to the battle to preserve excellent care and the choice of a peaceful and humane death at the end of life.

Repeated polls indicate most people of every faith and political persuasion favor choice at the end of life. Yet religious conservatives repeatedly seek to impose a narrow, doctrinaire view of morality on everyone throughout the nation. We vow to continue the struggle to realize the goals of individual autonomy at life's end even though the balance of power in Washington clearly rests with religious conservatives who pursue a vigorous agenda of change for our nation.

Aid-in-dying is only one battleground where freedom of conscience is under attack. But because everyone will one day face end-of-life decisions, it is a battleground of enormous importance to us all.

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