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Washington v. Glucksberg

Citation. 521 U.S. 702, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 (1997).
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Brief Fact Summary.


Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not include the right to physician-assisted suicide.


Washington enacted legislation that expressly excluded physician-assisted suicide. Plaintiffs asserted the existence of a liberty interested protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, which extends to a personal choice by a mentally competent, terminally ill adult to commit physician-assisted suicide.


Does Washington’s ban on physician-assisted suicide violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause by denying competent terminally ill adults the liberty to choose death over life?


No, Washington’s ban on physician-assisted suicide is constitutional.


The Due Process Clause provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests, such as the right to refuse unwanted lifesaving medical treatment. However, we have always been reluctant to expand the concept of substantive due process because guideposts for responsible decision making in this uncharted area are scarce. For over 700 years, the Anglo-American common-law tradition has punished or otherwise disapproved of both suicide and assisting suicide. To hold for Plaintiffs would be to reverse centuries of legal doctrine and practice, and the considered policy choice of almost every state. Because the right to assisted suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause, Washington’s assisted-suicide ban need only be rationally related to a legitimate government interest. This requirement is unquestionably met here. Washington’s assisted-suicide ban implicates a number of state interests, such as an interest in the reservation of human life and in protecting the ethics of the medical profession.

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