Washington v. Glucksberg Case Brief

Summary of Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997)

Facts: The State of Wash enacted two separate statues. One, bars anyone from causing or assisting another attempting suicide. The second provides that w/h or w/d of life sustaining treatment at the patient’s direction cannot be considered suicide. Doctors who treat terminally ill want to assist certain patients to end their lives but for the law.

Issue(s): Whether WA prohibition against causing or assisting a suicide offends the 14th; and whether liberty includes a right to commit suicide and a fortiori a right to assistance?

Holding: Right to assisted suicide is not a fund liberty interest under DP Cl. and therefore the state law must only reasonably relate to a legitimate state int. That requirement is met here.

Procedure: Drs; patients; and nonprofit Org seek declaratory relief that the first law is facially unconstitutional. D Ct held the assisted suicide ban places an undue burden on the exercise of a constitutionally protected liberty interest. Ct. App Affirmed and held a right to die exists as a liberty interest under the Const. U.S.S.Ct. Reversed.

Rule(s): DP Cl guarantees more than fair process, and the liberty it protects includes more than the absence of physical restraint. It provides heightened protection against Govt Intrusion of specific fundamental rights and liberty interests.

Rationale: Begin all DP Cases by examining Nation’s history, legal traditions, and practices. In almost every state and democratic country suicide is a crime. States have an interest in preserving the sanctity of life, if not life itself. Although the DP Cl protects the traditional right to refuse unwanted lifesaving medical treatment, the Const has never protected the decision to commit suicide with the assistance of another. Both decisions may be intimate and personal, but the former has been recognized in our legal traditions and history. A careful description of the asserted fundamental right must include an express provision or one found in our history, traditions or practices. In the absence, the standard becomes one of reasonable relation to a legitimate state interest justifying the action, and there is no need to balance the competing interests.

Pl’s A: (Drs) The basic and intimate exercises of personal autonomy are protected by DP as a liberty interest, and therefore DP protects the liberty of competent terminally ill adults to make end of life decisions free from undue govt interference

State Int: 1) Preserve human life, even those near death; 2) Suicide is a public health problem; 3) many people who request assisted suicide are depressed and w/ medication they w/d the request; 4) Protect the integrity and ethics of the medical profession-doctor assisted suicide incongruent with the role as a healer; 5) State role in protecting vulnerable groups–poor, elderly, and disabled–from abuse, neglect, mistakes, coercion, and undue influence; and 6) Fear acceptance of assisted suicide will lead to involuntary euthanasia.

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