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Case

Washington v. Glucksberg | Vacco v. Quill

Last Updated: 5/29/2020

Overview

What's at stake

  • The preservation of the right to life from conception to natural death
  • The freedom of state governments to uphold laws that protect the lives of their citizens
  • The fabrication of a “right” to assisted suicide

Summary

The state of Washington historically prohibited the practice of “assisted suicide,” in which a doctor or other person assists in killing another person. The ban was codified in 1979 in the state’s Natural Death Act. In 1996, five physicians challenged the Act, claiming that the ban was unconstitutional.

The district court overturned the Act, finding that there is a constitutional “right” to physician-assisted suicide. The appellate court, after initially upholding the Act, reversed its own decision later, agreeing with the district court that Washington could not ban assisted suicide.

The state of New York also prohibited assisted suicide. In 1996, three physicians sued the state, claiming that the ban was unconstitutional. The district court upheld the ban, but the appellate court sided with the physicians and found the ban unconstitutional.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld both the New York and Washington bans, holding that there is no constitutional “right” to assisted suicide. The Court also recognized the importance of protecting the most vulnerable human lives and reinforcing state policy that the terminally ill, disabled and elderly are “no less valued than the lives of the young and healthy.”

Our role in this case

Alliance Defending Freedom provided strategic support and funding at the appellate court level, and coordinated briefs from more than 40 groups that stand against assisted suicide.

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