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ASHCROFT TRAMPLES ON STATES' RIGHTS



Published: Wed, November 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



ASHCROFT TRAMPLES ON STATES' RIGHTS

San Jose Mercury News: Attorney General John Ashcroft fervently defends the principle of states' rights, until it no longer suits his purpose.

Last week, Ashcroft ran roughshod over it. He told federal drug officials to prosecute Oregon's doctors who prescribe drugs in accordance with that state's physician-assisted suicide law.

In doing so, he dismissed the will of Oregon voters, who twice passed referendums establishing assisted suicide. He disregarded the intent of the U.S. Supreme Court, which said that states can decide the issue for themselves. And he took it upon himself to try what Congress twice has refused to do: ban assisted suicide nationwide.

Assisted suicide: Oregon is the only state to permit assisted suicide. Since the law took effect four years ago, 70 terminally ill people -- fewer than 20 per year -- have ended their lives with narcotics prescribed by physicians. Only individuals with less than six months to live, judged mentally competent by two doctors, are eligible for assisted suicide under the law.

Ashcroft directed the Drug Enforcement Agency to revoke licenses of doctors who prescribe lethal doses of federally regulated drugs. He cited the recent Supreme Court ruling that the federal government can override state laws permitting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

But that decision, dealing with illegal drugs, provides a thin rationale for tramping on states' right to regulate the practice of medicine -- a power Congress has traditionally ceded to states. It's also a selective reading of the Supreme Court. While rejecting a constitutional right to assisted suicide, a majority of judges said in a 1997 ruling that states should have latitude to permit assisted suicide. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor cited the benefit of having states serve as a "laboratory" on difficult issues.

Ashcroft instructed the drug agency to pursue only those doctors who prescribed drugs to intentionally cause death, not those who may have hastened death in an effort to relieve pain. But Oregon's doctors have cause for worry if drug agents start looking over their shoulders, deciding how and if they can practice medicine.

SAME OLD TOBACCO ROAD

Philadelphia Inquirer: Philip Morris, maker of Marlboros, Miller Lite, Triscuits, and Kraft macaroni and cheese, has a new name: Altria. Great, a foodstuffs conglomerate now has a name that sounds like the algae growing on the pond out back.

Corporations actually pay consultants big chunks of dough to come up with these monikers for companies and brands. Made-up words are all the rage in corporate naming nowadays. Some work: Verizon. Some don't: Accenture (Andersen Consulting).

Charming carcinogen: The immediate suspicion with Philip Morris is that it wants to get away from a name forever linked with that charming carcinogen, tobacco. It's not as if the company is going to stop churning out cancer sticks. But it doesn't want to remind you of that fact every time you buy mayonnaise. In other contexts, this is known as going by an alias.




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