OCTOBER TERM, 1996
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
No. 96-110. Argued January 8, 1997—Decided June 26, 1997
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, and Cruzan v. Director, Mo. Dept. of Health, 497 U. S. 261, 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. 710-736. (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. 710-719. (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.Page: Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Next
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