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Washington v. Glucksberg

Citation. 22 Ill.521 U.S. 702, 117 S. Ct. 2302, 117 S. Ct. 2258, 138 L. Ed. 2d 772 (1997)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Various parties sued seeking to have a State of Washington statute declaring assisted suicide illegal declared unconstitutional per the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A statute banning physician assisted suicide does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.


The Respondents, physicians who treat terminally ill patients, along with three terminally ill patients who have since died and a non profit organization who counsels terminally ill patients regarding physician assisted suicide (Respondents), sued the Petitioner, the State of Washington (Petitioner), seeking to have a statue that forbids the aiding or causing of suicide declared unconstitutional per the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The Respondents asserted the existence of a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, which extended to a personal choice by a mentally competent, terminally ill adult to commit physician-assisted suicide. The Respondents argued that the statute in question placed an undue burden on the exercise of that constitutionally protected liberty interest. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Respondents argument and declared there was a constitutionally protected right in controlling the manner of one’s death and the Washington statute
banning physician assisted suicide in the case of the terminally ill was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) in analyzing this due process case first looked to the Nation’s history regarding suicide and assisting suicide. The Supreme Court determined that the Nations’ laws and history have consistently condemned and continue to prohibit assisted suicide. The right to die by physician assisted suicide is not so rooted in the traditions and conscience of the Nation to be ranked as fundamental. The Supreme Court disregarded the Respondent’s reliance on Cruzan because in Cruzan the fundamental right to refuse unwanted medical treatment was rooted in Nations history and legal traditions. Respondents reliance on Casey also was determined not to be sound, as Casey does not suggest that the personal liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and the Due Process clause warrants that any and all important personal, intimate and personal decisions are so constitutionally protected.
The Petitioner has an unqualified interest in the preservation of human life and in protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession. The Petitioner also has an interest in protecting vulnerable groups, including the poor, the elderly and terminally ill.


Whether the Petitioner’s prohibition against causing or aiding a suicide offends the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution?


No. Reversed.
The Petitioner’s interest in protecting those who are not truly competent or facing imminent death, or those whose decision to hasten death would not truly be voluntary, are sufficiently weighty to justify a prohibition against physician assisted suicide.
The Petitioner has an interest in preserving and fostering the benefits that every human being may provide to the community. The value to others of a person’s life is far too precious to allow the individual to claim a constitutional entitlement to complete autonomy in making decision to end that life. The Petitioner has a compelling interest in preventing persons from committing suicide because of depression. Or coercion by third parties. The Petitioner’s legitimate interest in preventing abuse does not apply to an individual who is not victimized by abuse, who is not suffering from depression and who makes a rational and voluntary decision to seek assistance in dying.
The Supreme Court saw that the issue was whether the statute sets upon those arbitrary impositions or purposeless restraints at odds with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Legislatures would be a better avenue for dealing with this claim.
The Supreme Court does not need to decide whether the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right. The avoidance of severe physical pain would have to comprise an essential part of any successful claim and the laws before the court did not force a dying person to undergo severe physical pain, as they do not prohibit doctors from providing patients with drugs sufficient to control pain.


The right to die by physician assisted suicide in not a fundamental right per the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constit

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