Washington v. Glucksberg

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Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) saw the Supreme Court take up the emotional issue of assisted suicide. Chief Justice William Rehnquist unanimously upheld a state of Washington law that banned causing or aiding a suicide. He showed through history, legal traditions, and practices that one does not have a fundamental liberty to commit suicide with another’s assistance. Therefore the law did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but instead was rationally related to legitimate government interests. In the companion case, Vacco v. Quill, Rehnquist, again speaking for a unanimous Court, upheld a New York law that made it a crime to aid another to commit or attempt suicide, although the law recognized the right of patients to refuse lifesaving medical treatment. Taken together, these two decisions suggest that while the right of privacy guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States does not include a right to assisted suicide, states, under their own constitutions, might create such a right.

Robert W. Langran

Last Updated: 2006

SEE ALSO: Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health