WASHINGTON — The Bush administration overstepped its authority when it barred doctors from helping terminally ill patients die in the only state that allows physician-assisted suicide, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday. In a stinging defeat for the administration, the high court ruled by a 6-3 vote that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft wrongly interpreted a federal law in 2001 to bar distribution of controlled drugs to assist suicides, disregarding the Oregon law authorizing it. “It is difficult to defend the attorney general’s declaration that the statute impliedly criminalizes physician-assisted suicide,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said for the court majority. The court’s most conservative members — Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and new Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush — dissented. Roberts, in his first dissent, did not write an opinion. The Oregon law, called the Death with Dignity Act, was twice approved by the state’s voters. The only state law in the nation allowing doctor-assisted suicide, it has been used by more than 200 people since it took effect in 1997. Under Oregon law, terminally ill patients who want to end their lives with a physician’s help must […]

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