Washington v. Glucksberg Case Brief

Facts of the case

Dr. Harold Glucksberg — along with four other physicians, three terminally ill patients who have since died, and a nonprofit organization that counsels individuals contemplating physician assisted-suicide — brought this suit challenging the state of Washington’s ban on physician assisted-suicide. The State of Washington has historically criminalized the promotion of suicide attempts by those who knowingly cause or aid another person to attempt suicide.Glucksberg alleged that Washington’s ban was unconstitutional. Following a District Court ruling favoring Glucksberg and his fellow petitioners, the Ninth Circuit affirmed and the Supreme Court granted Washington certiorari.

Why is the case important?

The Supreme Court of the United States held that a law that prohibits anyone (including physicians) from aiding or causing another to commit suicide is constitutional

Question

Whether Washington’s prohibition against causing or aiding a suicide offends the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

ANSWER

No. The en banc judgment of the Court of Appeals reversed. There is consistent and almost universal tradition that has long rejected the asserted right of assisting suicide. To hold that such a right is fundamental in nature would be to reverse centuries of legal doctrine. Therefore, assisting suicide is not a fundamental right. The Constitution requires the state ban to be rationally related to legitimate government interests. Petitioners have an “unqualified interest in the preservation of human life.” Suicide is a serious health problem. Further, Petitioners have an interest in protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession, as well as an interest in protecting vulnerable groups from abuse, neglect and mistakes. The ban on assisting suicide is thus rationally related to these legitimate state interests.

CONCLUSION

The United States Supreme Court held that history, legal traditions, and practice supported criminalizing assisted suicide. The Court held that the assisted-suicide ban was rationally related to a legitimate government interest because Washington sought to preserve human life and also uphold the integrity and ethics of the medical profession. Additionally, Washington’s statute sought to protect vulnerable groups, such as the poor, elderly, and disabled from abuse, neglect, and mistakes. Finally, the Court held that Washington’s ban on assisted-suicide effectively prevented a broader license to voluntary or involuntary euthanasia. Thus, the Court reversed judgment in favor of petitioners.

  • Advocates: Kathryn L. Tucker Argued the cause of the respondents Walter E. Dellinger, III on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae William L. Williams Argued the cause for the petitioners for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court
  • Petitioner: Washington
  • Respondent: Glucksberg
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Dr. Harold Glucksberg’s Residence
Citation: 521 US 702 (1997)
Argued: Jan 8, 1997
Decided: Jun 26, 1997
Washington v. Glucksberg Case Brief