Just before leaving office, former Attorney General John Ashcroft sucker-punched Oregon: He filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court challenging Oregon's physician assisted suicide law--the Death With Dignity Act. Since entering office, Ashcroft has been gunning for shutting down the law--which apparently chafes his pro-life attitudes.

Twice, Ashcroft has been turned away by the courts, who said that the federal government had no place managing a state's medical practices. But now, the conservative US Supreme Court has stepped in and agreed to rule on the case in their upcoming session. How the case unfolds from here has all the makings of a landmark decision: A ruling favoring Ashcroft would not only effectively shut down the country's only physician assisted suicide law, but would also establish a stronger presence for the federal government in messing with state matters.

The law has been passed twice by Oregon voters--in 1994 and then again in 1997. The law allows a terminally ill patient with less than six months to live the right to receive a lethal prescription. Historically, medical practices are left up to the state.

But Ashcroft does not see the law as serving a "legitimate medical purpose." Instead of attacking the law head-on, Ashcroft has manipulated the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) in an attempt to criminalize Oregon physicians and pharmacists who assist in suicides.

"There is absolutely no congressional authority for the US Attorney General to manage the medical practices of a state," argues Kevin Neely from the Oregon Department of Justice. "This is a question of whether the US Attorney General even has the authority to use the Controlled Substance Act on non-illegal drugs."

Even if the Supreme Court decides Ashcroft is correct, it will not kill the Death With Dignity Act--however, it's likely that physicians and pharmacists will be too scared of prosecution under the CSA to implement it. Basically, Oregon doctors will be forced to join the nation's drug pushers and narcotic traffickers on the wrong side of the law. Although no one from the Attorney General's office would return the Mercury's call, according to their website, the "taking of drugs to commit suicide is 'drug abuse.'"