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Washington v. Glucksberg

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellees argued that a State statute prohibiting assisted suicide was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. This defense cannot be allowed to justify acts taken to foreclose speculative and uncertain dangers.

    Facts. Appellees are physicians who practice in Washington and occasionally treat the terminally ill. Appellees sued in Federal court alleging that the State statute prohibiting individuals from aiding/causing suicide was unconstitutional under the Constitution. Both lower courts found for Appellees and the State appealed.

    Issue. Whether the statute prohibiting causing or aiding in a suicide is in violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

    Held. The Court of Appeals is reversed and the case is remanded.
    Simply because the rights and liberties protected by Due Process sound in personal autonomy does not warrant the sweeping conclusion that any and all important, intimate personal decisions are protected.

    The State has an unqualified interest in the preservation of human life.

    Concurrence. Justice Souter concurred. He argued that drawing the line between assisted suicide and involuntary euthanasia would be difficult to do. Justice O’Connor concurred arguing that the prohibition against assisted suicide protected those who had no sufficiently weighed the consequence of their decision to die. Justice Stevens concurred arguing that assisted suicide was a decision made hastily motivated by temporary concerns at stake.

    Discussion. The Court ruled that consistently throughout history and even in modern day, assisting in suicides has been prohibited by common law or by statute. Despite changes in medical policy and technology, States have not retreated from this prohibition. Further, the State has several important interests at stake in regulation and prohibiting this kind of practice which included the integrity of the medical profession, involuntary euthanasia and protecting the vulnerable from coercion.


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