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San Francisco court rebuffs John Ashcroft

SAN FRANCISCO, May 27 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court has upheld Oregon's law authorizing doctors to help their terminally ill patients commit suicide.

A divided three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Justice Department did not have the power to punish the doctors involved, the New York Times reported Thursday.

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The majority decision rebuked Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying he had overstepped his authority in trying to block enforcement of Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

"The attorney general's unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers," Judge Richard C. Tallman wrote for the majority, "interferes with the democratic debate about physician-assisted suicide and far exceeds the scope of his authority under federal law."

The government could accept the decision, ask the full appellate court to rehear the case or appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

The assisted-suicide law in Oregon, the product of a 1994 voter initiative, allows adults with incurable diseases who are likely to die in six months to obtain lethal drugs from their doctors. The doctors may prescribe but not administer the drugs, and they are granted immunity from liability.

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