The Supreme Court appeared sharply divided in hearing the Bush administration’s appeal. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has had colon cancer, talked about medicines that make a sick person’s final moments more comfortable. David Souter, in an emotional moment, said it’s one thing for the government to ban date-rape drugs and harmful products but “that seems to me worlds away from what we’re talking about here.” On the other side, Roberts and Antonin Scalia appeared skeptical of Oregon’s claims that states have the sole authority to regulate the practice of medicine. Roberts, 50, was presiding over his first major oral argument and thrust himself in the middle of the debate. Over and over he raised concerns that states could undermine federal regulation of addictive drugs. He interrupted Oregon Senior Assistant Attorney General Robert Atkinson in his first minute, then asked more than a dozen more tough questions. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON – New Chief Justice John Roberts stepped forward Wednesday as an aggressive defender of federal authority to block doctor-assisted suicide, as the Supreme Court clashed over an Oregon law that lets doctors help terminally ill patients end their lives. The justices will decide whether the federal government, not states, has the final say on the life-or-death issue. It was a wrenching debate for a court touched personally by illness. Roberts replaced William Rehnquist, who died a month ago after battling cancer for nearly a year. Three justices have had cancer and a fourth has a spouse who counsels children with untreatable cancer. The outcome is hard to predict, in part because of the uncertain status of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who seemed ready to support Oregon’s law. Her replacement could be confirmed before the ruling is handed down, possibly months from now. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Roberts repeatedly raised concerns that a single exception for Oregon would allow other states to create a patchwork of rules. “If one state can say it’s legal for doctors to prescribe morphine to make people feel better, or to prescribe steroids for bodybuilding, doesn’t that undermine the uniformity of the federal law and make enforcement impossible?” he asked. The Supreme Court eight years ago concluded that the dying have no constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide. O’Connor provided a key fifth vote in that decision, which left room for state-by-state experimentation. The new case is a turf battle of sorts, started by former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a favorite among the president’s conservative religious supporters. Hastening someone’s death is an improper use of medication and violates federal drug laws, Ashcroft reasoned in 2001, an opposite conclusion from the one reached by Attorney General Janet Reno in the Clinton administration. Oregon won a lawsuit in a lower court over its voter-approved law, which took effect in 1997 and has been used by 208 people.