Washington v. Glucksberg, 96110

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREHNQUIST
Citation138 L.Ed.2d 772,521 U.S. 702,117 S.Ct. 2258,117 S.Ct. 2302
PartiesWASHINGTON, et al., Petitioners, v. Harold GLUCKSBERG et al
Docket Number96110
Decision Date26 June 1997

521 U.S. 702
117 S.Ct. 2258
117 S.Ct. 2302
138 L.Ed.2d 772
WASHINGTON, et al., Petitioners,

v.

Harold GLUCKSBERG et al.

No. 96-110.
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued Jan. 8, 1997.
Decided June 26, 1997.
Syllabus *

It has always been a crime to assist a suicide in the State of Washington. The State's present law makes " [p]romoting a suicide attempt'' a felony, and provides: "A person is guilty of [that crime] when he knowingly causes or aids another person to attempt suicide.'' Respondents, four Washington physicians who occasionally treat terminally ill, suffering patients, declare that they would assist these patients in ending their lives if not for the State's assisted-suicide ban. They, along with three gravely ill plaintiffs who have since died and a nonprofit organization that counsels people considering physician-assisted suicide, filed this suit against petitioners, the State and its Attorney General, seeking a declaration that the ban is, on its face, unconstitutional. They assert a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause which extends to a personal choice by a mentally competent, terminally ill adult to commit physician-assisted suicide. Relying primarily on Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 112 S.Ct. 2791, 120 L.Ed.2d 674, and Cruzan v. Director, Mo. Dept. of Health, 497 U.S. 261, 110 S.Ct. 2841, 111 L.Ed.2d 224, the Federal District Court agreed, concluding that Washington's assisted-suicide ban is unconstitutional because it places an undue burden on the exercise of that constitutionally protected liberty interest. The en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Held: Washington's prohibition against "caus[ing]'' or "aid[ing]'' a suicide does not violate the Due Process Clause. Pp. ____-____.

(a) An examination of our Nation's history, legal traditions, and practices demonstrates that Anglo-American common law has punished or otherwise disapproved of assisting suicide for over 700 years; that rendering such assistance is still a crime in almost every State; that such prohibitions have never contained exceptions for those who were near death; that the prohibitions have in recent years been reexamined and, for the most part, reaffirmed in a number of States; and that the President recently signed the Federal Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, which prohibits the use of federal funds in support of physician-assisted suicide. Pp. ____-____.

(b) In light of that history, this Court's decisions lead to the conclusion that respondents' asserted "right'' to assistance in committing suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. The Court's established method of substantive-due-process analysis has two primary features: First, the Court has regularly observed that the Clause specially protects those fundamental rights and liberties which are, objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition. E.g., Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 503, 97 S.Ct. 1932, 1937-1938, 52 L.Ed.2d 531 (plurality opinion). Second, the Court has required a "careful description'' of the asserted fundamental liberty interest. E.g., Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292, 302, 113 S.Ct. 1439, 1447, 123 L.Ed.2d 1. The Ninth Circuit's and respondents' various descriptions of the interest here at stake-e.g., a right to "determin[e] the time and manner of one's death,'' the "right to die,'' a "liberty to choose how to die,'' a right to "control of one's final days,'' "the right to choose a humane, dignified death,'' and "the liberty to shape death''-run counter to that second requirement. Since the Washington statute prohibits "aid[ing] another person to attempt suicide,'' the question before the Court is more properly characterized as whether the "liberty'' specially protected by the Clause includes a right to commit suicide which itself includes a right to assistance in doing so. This asserted right has no place in our Nation's traditions, given the country's consistent, almost universal, and continuing rejection of the right, even for terminally ill, mentally competent adults. To hold for respondents, the Court would have to reverse centuries of legal doctrine and practice, and strike down the considered policy choice of almost every State. Respondents' contention that the asserted interest is consistent with this Court's substantive-due-process cases, if not with this Nation's history and practice, is unpersuasive. The constitutionally protected right to refuse lifesaving hydration and nutrition that was discussed in Cruzan, supra, at 279, 110 S.Ct., at 2851-2852, was not simply deduced from abstract concepts of personal autonomy, but was instead grounded in the Nation's history and traditions, given the common-law rule that forced medication was a battery, and the long legal tradition protecting the decision to refuse unwanted medical treatment. And although Casey recognized that many of the rights and liberties protected by the Due Process Clause sound in personal autonomy, 505 U.S., at 852, 112 S.Ct., at 2807, it does not follow that any and all important, intimate, and personal decisions are so protected, see San Antonio School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 33-34, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1296-1297, 36 L.Ed.2d 16. Casey did not suggest otherwise. Pp. ____-____.

(c) The constitutional requirement that Washington's assisted-suicide ban be rationally related to legitimate government interests, see e.g., Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 319-320, 113 S.Ct. 2637, 2642-2643, 125 L.Ed.2d 257, is unquestionably met here. These interests include prohibiting intentional killing and preserving human life; preventing the serious public-health problem of suicide, especially among the young, the elderly, and those suffering from untreated pain or from depression or other mental disorders; protecting the medical profession's integrity and ethics and maintaining physicians' role as their patients' healers; protecting the poor, the elderly, disabled persons, the terminally ill, and persons in other vulnerable groups from indifference, prejudice, and psychological and financial pressure to end their lives; and avoiding a possible slide towards voluntary and perhaps even involuntary euthanasia. The relative strengths of these various interests need not be weighed exactingly, since they are unquestionably important and legitimate, and the law at issue is at least reasonably related to their promotion and protection. Pp. ____-____.

79 F.3d 790 (C.A.9 1996), reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined in part. STEVENS, J., SOUTER, J., GINSBURG, J., and BREYER, J., filed opinions concurring in the judgment.

William L. Williams, for petitioners.

Walter Dellinger, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court.

Kathryn L. Tucker, Seattle, WA, for respondents.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in this case is whether Washington's prohibition against "caus[ing]'' or "aid[ing]'' a suicide offends the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We hold that it does not.

It has always been a crime to assist a suicide in the State of Washington. In 1854, Washington's first Territorial Legislature outlawed "assisting another in the commission of self-murder.''1 Today, Washington law provides: "A person is guilty of promoting a suicide attempt when he knowingly causes or aids another person to attempt suicide.'' Wash. Rev.Code 9A.36.060(1) (1994). "Promoting a suicide attempt'' is a felony, punishable by up to five years' imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine. —§§9A.36.060(2) and 9A.20.021(1)(c). At the same time, Washington's Natural Death Act, enacted in 1979, states that the "withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment'' at a patient's direction "shall not, for any purpose, constitute a suicide.'' Wash. Rev.Code §70.122.070(1). 2

Petitioners in this case are the State of Washington and its Attorney General. Respondents Harold Glucksberg, M. D., Abigail Halperin, M. D., Thomas A. Preston, M. D., and Peter Shalit, M. D., are physicians who practice in Washington. These doctors occasionally treat terminally ill, suffering patients, and declare that they would assist these patients in ending their lives if not for Washington's assisted-suicide ban. 3 In January 1994, respondents, along with three gravely ill, pseudonymous plaintiffs who have since died and Compassion in Dying, a nonprofit organization that counsels people considering physician-assisted suicide, sued in the United States District Court, seeking a declaration that Wash Rev.Code 9A.36.060(1) (1994) is, on its face, unconstitutional. Compassion in Dying v. Washington, 850 F.Supp. 1454, 1459 (W.D.Wash.1994). 4

The plaintiffs asserted "the existence of a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment which extends to a personal choice by a mentally competent, terminally ill adult to commit physician-assisted suicide.'' Id., at 1459. Relying primarily on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 112 S.Ct. 2791, 120 L.Ed.2d 674 (1992), and Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health, 497 U.S. 261, 110 S.Ct. 2841, 111 L.Ed.2d 224 (1990), the District Court agreed, 850 F.Supp., at 1459-1462, and concluded that Washington's assisted-suicide ban is unconstitutional because it "places an undue burden on the exercise of [that] constitutionally protected liberty interest.'' Id., at 1465. 5 The District Court also decided that the Washington statute violated the Equal Protection Clause's requirement that ""all persons similarly situated . . . be treated alike.''' Id., at 1466 (quoting Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 439, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 3253-3254, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 ...

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2489 practice notes
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    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
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    ...with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests." (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (citing Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 719, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 (1997) (involving substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment), and Reno v. Flores,......
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
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    ...upbringing of one's children, to marital privacy, to use contraception, to bodily integrity, and to abortion,” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 (1997) (citations omitted)—a list the Supreme Court has been “very reluctant to expand,” Moore, 410 F.3......
  • Suboh v. City of Revere, Mass., No. CIV.A. 00-10396-WGY.
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    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
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    ...turns to the claims in this case. The Fourteenth Amendment protects both substantive and procedural due process. Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 719-20, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 a. Substantive Due Process The facts alleged in the Amended Complaint give rise to two violations ......
  • Hawkins v. Freeman, No. 96-7539
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • 26 Marzo 1999
    ...the concept of ordered liberty,' such that 'neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed.' " Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 2268, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 (1997) (quoting Moore v. City of Page 271 East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 503, 97 S.Ct. 1932, 52 L.Ed.2......
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2471 cases
  • National Abortion Federation v. Ashcroft, No. 03 CIV. 8695(RCC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • 26 Agosto 2004
    ...with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests." (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (citing Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 719, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 (1997) (involving substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment), and Reno v. Flores,......
  • State v. United States Dep't of Health, Nos. 11–11021
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • 12 Agosto 2011
    ...upbringing of one's children, to marital privacy, to use contraception, to bodily integrity, and to abortion,” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 (1997) (citations omitted)—a list the Supreme Court has been “very reluctant to expand,” Moore, 410 F.3......
  • Suboh v. City of Revere, Mass., No. CIV.A. 00-10396-WGY.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • 30 Marzo 2001
    ...turns to the claims in this case. The Fourteenth Amendment protects both substantive and procedural due process. Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 719-20, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 a. Substantive Due Process The facts alleged in the Amended Complaint give rise to two violations ......
  • Hawkins v. Freeman, No. 96-7539
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    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • 26 Marzo 1999
    ...the concept of ordered liberty,' such that 'neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed.' " Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 2268, 138 L.Ed.2d 772 (1997) (quoting Moore v. City of Page 271 East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 503, 97 S.Ct. 1932, 52 L.Ed.2......
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