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Washington v. Glucksburg

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

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff challenged a Washington state law which prohibited physician-assisted suicide.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment does not protect the right to physician-assisted suicide.


The state of Washington enacted a law which prohibited physician-assisted suicide. Plaintiffs challenged the law, arguing liberty interest protected the personal choice by a mentally competent, terminally-ill adult to commit physician-assisted suicide.


Whether the Washington state ban on physician-assisted suicide violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.


No. The Washington state ban on physician-assisted suicide does not violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Justice O’Connor

I agree there is no generalized right to commit suicide.  Even assuming that there is such a right, the state’s interest in protection those who are not truly competent or facing imminent death are sufficiently weighty to further justify prohibition of assisted suicide.

Justice Stevens

I fully agree that the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause does not include a categorical right to commit suicide. I do not foreclose the possibility, however, that an individual plaintiff seeking to hasten her death could prevail in a more particularized challenge.

Justice Souter

The question is whether the statute sets up an arbitrary imposition or purposeless restraint at odds with the Due Process Clause. It does not.

I do not want to decide for all of time that such a claim should not be recognized, however. Legislatures have superior opportunities to obtain the facts necessary for a judgement about the present controversy of assisted suicide.

Justice Breyer

The Court describes the liberty interest as a right to commit suicide with another’s assistance. Whether the right to die with dignity, which is perhaps a different formulation, is a liberty interest need not be decided today.


Starting with the history and traditions of this nation, the Anglo-American common law tradition has punished or otherwise disapproved of both suicide and assisting suicide. In almost every state it is a crime to assist in suicide. Treatment of assisted suicide in this country has been and continues to be rejected in nearly all efforts. As such, the right to die by assisted suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The ban on assisted suicide need only be rationally related to a legitimate government interest. The burden here is satisfied as the state has an interest in preserving human life and protecting the ethics of the medical profession.

The state’s interest goes beyond protecting the vulnerable from coercion and extends to protect the disabled and terminally ill people from prejudice, negative and inaccurate stereotypes, and societal indifferences. The assisted-suicide ban reflects and reinforces this notion.

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