Washington v. Glucksberg

Annotation

PRIMARY HOLDING

A state is permitted under the Fourteenth Amendment to pass a law prohibiting assisted suicide.

FACTS

Under the Natural Death Act of 1979, the state of Washington prohibited assisted suicide. The law was challenged by Harold Glucksberg and four other doctors in conjunction with a group of terminally ill individuals and Compassion in Dying, an organization that provided guidance for people considering assisted suicide. They persuaded a federal district court that the right to die was part of the liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Initially disagreeing with the lower court, the Ninth Circuit ultimately affirmed its decision after an en banc review.OPINIONS

Majority

  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Sandra Day O’Connor
  • Antonin Scalia
  • Anthony M. Kennedy
  • Clarence Thomas

The majority looked back to how it had defined liberty interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to determine whether the right to assisted suicide should be included. In Moore v. East Cleveland, the Court had limited liberty interests to those that were deeply rooted in the nation’s history. This could not be said of assisted suicide, which until recently had been considered socially improper and remained illegal in many states. The majority even looked back to English common law as a guide for what could be considered traditionally appropriate in the U.S. Moreoever, Rehnquist pointed out that the state has a compelling interest in preserving the lives of its residents and protecting mentally ill individuals from mistreatment. If the Court recognized the right to die, even in some extreme cases, it would become hard to draw a line separating the permissible use of this right fom the impermissible use of euthanasia by a person or the person’s family.

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