Friday, November 15, 2013

Gonzales v. Oregon case brief

Gonzales v. Oregon case brief summary
546 U.S. 243 (2006)

Respondent State of Oregon and others challenged in federal court an interpretive rule issued by petitioner U.S. Attorney General which would have disrupted physician assisted suicide under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act (ODWDA), Or. Rev. Stat. § 127.800 et seq. (2003). A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held the interpretive rule to be invalid. The Government's petition for certiorari was granted.

The interpretive rule determined that using controlled substances to assist suicide was not a legitimate medical practice and that dispensing or prescribing drugs for that purpose was unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C.S. § 801 et seq.

The validity of the interpretive rule was the issue before the Court. 21 C.F.R. § 1306.04 (2005) used the terms "legitimate medical purpose" and "the course of professional practice," but this just repeated these statutory phrases while giving little or no instruction on the question of who was to decide whether a particular activity was in "the course of professional practice" or done for a "legitimate medical purpose."

  • The court held that since the regulation gave no indication how to decide that issue, the Attorney General's effort to decide it could not be considered an interpretation of the regulation. The issue was not the meaning of the regulation, but the meaning of the statute. 
  • The Attorney General's rulemaking power to fulfill his duties under the CSA did not include the power to declare illegitimate a medical standard for care and treatment of patients that was specifically authorized under state law.


The judgment was affirmed.

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