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Washington v. Glucksberg

Citation. Washington v. Glucksberg, 517 U.S. 1241, 116 S. Ct. 2494, 135 L. Ed. 2d 187, 64 U.S.L.W. 3820 (U.S. June 10, 1996)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Petitioners appeal the lower court ruling from the State of Washington that held that the State’s ban against assisted suicide violated the United States Constitution Fourteenth Amendment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A state’s ban on assisted suicide does not violate the constitution.


Respondents sought to have the ban against physician assisted suicide was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. Petitioners claim that the Fourteenth Amendment protects liberty that extends to a personal choice by a mentally competent, terminally ill adult to commit physician assisted suicide. The lower court held for Respondents, and Petitioners appeal, contending that the state has an interest in not allowing such suicide.


Does a state’s ban on assisted suicide violate the Constitution?


No. A state’s ban on assisted suicide does not violate the Constitution. The history, legal traditions, and practice of the laws of this nation under the Constitution support criminalizing suicide, whether it is to end a patient’s suffering or not. The ban against physician-assisted suicide is reasonable because it relates to a legitimate state interest because Washington State seeks to preserve human life and also to uphold the integrity and ethics of the medical profession. Moreover, Washington’s statute seeks to protect potentially vulnerable individuals who might be pressured into such suicide, such as the poor, elderly, those disabled from abuse, neglect, and mistakes. This ban also effectively prevents a broader license to voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Therefore, we hold for Respondents.


Two concurrences were given in this case:
There is no need to address the question whether suffering patients have a constitutionally cognizable interest in obtaining relief from the suffering that they may experience in the last days of their lives, even if medication given for this purpose hastens death. The difficulties in defining terminal illness and the risk that a dying patient’s request to end his or her life might not be fully voluntary justify the prohibition against assisted suicide that we uphold here.

Our holding is fully consistent with the vigorous debate regarding the morality, legality, and practicality of physician assisted suicide. There is also room for further debate on the limits that the Constitution imposes to punish the practice.


This case addresses whether or not there is a constitutionally protected right to die. Many issues, beyond the strictly legal, are considered in the ruling on this matter, including, as stated in the concurrence, the fact that such deaths may or may not be wholly voluntary, and whether or not patients have the right to ease their suffering through their chosen means.

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