Washington v. Glucksberg

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Washington v. Glucksberg
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 8, 1997
Decided June 26, 1997
Full case name Washington, et al., Petitioners v. Harold Glucksberg, et al.
Citations 521 U.S. 702 (more)
117 S. Ct. 2258; 117 S. Ct. 2302; 138 L. Ed. 2d 772; 1997 U.S. LEXIS 4039; 65 U.S.L.W. 4669; 97 Cal. Daily Op. Service 5008; 97 Daily Journal DAR 8150; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 190
Prior history On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
The Court held that the Due Process Clause did not protect the right to assistance in committing suicide.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Rehnquist, joined by O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas
Concurrence O'Connor, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer
Concurrence Stevens
Concurrence Souter
Concurrence Ginsburg
Concurrence Breyer

Washington vs. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997),[1] was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously held that a right to assistance in committing suicide was not protected by the Due Process Clause.


Dr. Harold Glucksberg, a physician; four other physicians; three terminally-ill patients; and the non-profit organization, Compassion in Dying, counseling those considering assisted-suicide, challenged Washington state's ban against assisted suicide in the Natural Death Act of 1979. They claimed that assisted suicide was a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The District Court ruled in favor of Glucksberg, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. Then, after rehearing the case en banc, the Ninth Circuit reversed the earlier panel and affirmed the District Court's decision. The case was argued before the United States Supreme Court on January 8, 1997. The question presented was whether the protection of the Due Process Clause included a right to commit suicide, and therefore commit suicide with another's assistance.


Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion for the court. His decision reversed a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a ban on physician assisted suicide embodied in Washington's Natural Death Act of 1979 was a violation of the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause. The Court held that because assisted suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest, it was not protected under the 14th Amendment. As previously decided in Moore v. East Cleveland, liberty interests not "deeply rooted in the nation's history" do not qualify as being a protected liberty interest. Assisted suicide, the court found, had been frowned upon for centuries and a majority of the States had similar bans on assisted suicide. Rehnquist found the English common law penalties associated with assisted suicide particularly significant. For example, at early common law the state confiscated the property of a person who committed suicide. Like Blackmun in Roe v. Wade, Rehnquist used English common law to establish American tradition as a yardstick for determining what rights were "deeply rooted in the nation's history." Rehnquist cited Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in the opinion.

The Court felt that the ban was rational in that it furthered such compelling state interests as the preservation of human life and the protection of the mentally ill and disabled from medical malpractice and coercion. It also prevented those moved to end their lives because of financial or psychological complications. The Court also felt that if the Court declared physician-assisted suicide a constitutionally protected right, they would start down the path to voluntary and perhaps involuntary euthanasia.

Justice O'Connor concurred. Justices Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens each wrote opinions concurring in the judgment of the court.

In 2008 Washington State voters approved 58%–42% the Washington Death with Dignity Act, which established guidelines for using the services of a physician to terminate one's life.

See also[edit]


  • ^ Text of Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia  LII 

External links[edit]