Full Docket Awaits First Session of Roberts Court

Cases on personal and family matters are part of the agenda awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's new term. The high court returns Monday, with newly confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts making his first appearance.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This coming week the US Supreme Court opens its session with John Roberts as the new chief justice. Several cases on the docket involve personal and moral dilemmas that families face. In a case from New Hampshire, the high court will consider when parents should know that their minor daughters are seeking abortions. A New Hampshire law required that parents be notified, except in cases when the girl's life is at risk. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals struck down that law as unconstitutional because it did not allow a waiver to protect a girl's health. New Hampshire attorney general wants the Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court and uphold the state's parental notification law.

Another family issue on the Supreme Court's docket this term concerns children with special needs. Under the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, schools must work out personalized instructional plans for children with disabilities. If a child's parents and the local school district disagree on that plan, they can appeal. The question before the high court is: In such disputes, who bears the burden of proof, the parents or the school district?

And on Wednesday the Court considers physician-assisted suicide. Oregon allows doctors to prescribe drugs to help a terminally ill patient die painlessly. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a directive that such physician-assisted suicide violates the Federal Controlled Substances Act. He argued that helping a patient end his or her life is not a legitimate medical purpose. But the state of Oregon successfully challenged Ashcroft in district court and later in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Those courts agreed that the attorney general was overstepping his bounds; that state lawmakers, not the federal government, are the primary regulators of medical conduct. The current attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, will ask the Supreme Court to overturn those rulings.

Tune in to our program tomorrow for a report on how the assisted-suicide law has worked in Oregon.

Unidentified Woman: One of the projections had been it would be the poor and the uninsured and the vulnerable, and it has proved to be the highly-educated, more often white, insured cancer patient.

ELLIOTT: A report on physician-assisted suicide tomorrow on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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