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Washington v. Glucksberg

Citation. 521 U.S. 702, 117 S. Ct. 2258, 117 S. Ct. 2302; 138 L. Ed. 2d 772
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Respondents, Glucksberg and other physicians who treat terminally ill patients (Respondents) seek a declaration that a Washington law prohibiting assisted suicide is unconstitutional.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Assisted suicide is not a liberty interest protected by the United States Constitution (Constitution).


Physicians treating terminally ill patients are seeking a determination that the Washington state law prohibiting assisted suicide is unconstitutional.


Is there a liberty interest in allowing patients the right to assisted suicide?


No. Appeals Court ruling reversed.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) notes that suicide is criminalized in almost every State and every Western democracy. To hold for the Respondents would strike down hundreds of years of legal tradition.
The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) had already established that there is a liberty interest in withholding unwanted medical treatment, even life support. However, in terms of suicide, there are several State interests against defining such a liberty interest: preserving human life, protecting the vulnerable and fear that this may start down the path toward involuntary euthanasia. Given that the State of Washington has compelling state interests in preventing assisted suicide, the means chosen are substantially related to that end.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor) concurs, but does not reach the narrow question of whether a mentally competent patient may ask for assistance in taking his own life. This is because she finds no liberty interest in suicide in general.
Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens) concurs noting that although the Washington statute is not facially invalid, it does not foreclose the possibility that some applications of the statute might well be invalid.
Justice Steven Breyer (J. Breyer) concurs with the decision, but wishes that the formulation of the right was not “the right to commit suicide with another’s assistance,” but a formulation similar to “the right to die with dignity.”


The Supreme Court does not decide whether it is constitutional for a law permitting assisted suicide to exist; only that it is constitutional to pass a law prohibiting assisted suicide, as there is no constitutional guarantee to assisted suicide.

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