• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee any right to have assistance in committing suicide.

In Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health[case]Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health[Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health] (1990), the Supreme Court “assumed and strongly suggested” that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the traditional right of competent adults to refuse medical treatment, including life-support systems. Building on this substantive reading of the due process clause, the Ninth Circuit struck down Washington state’s ban on assisted suicide, and it recognized that terminally ill competent adults have the right to hasten their deaths with medication prescribed by physicians.Physician-assisted suicide;Washington v. Glucksberg[Washington v. Glucksberg]

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court’s ruling. Speaking for a majority, Chief Justice William H. RehnquistRehnquist, William H.;Washington v. Glucksberg[Washington v. Glucksberg] found that the decision to terminate medical treatment was fundamentally different from providing active assistance in a suicide. The use of substantive due process, he emphasized, should be limited to protecting those rights and liberties that are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and traditions,” and he noted that this tradition had almost universally rejected any notion of a right to commit suicide. Washington’s law, moreover, furthered the state’s legitimate interest in protecting human life. Four justices, while concurring in Rehnquist’s ruling, expressed more expansive views of individual rights to personal autonomy protected by substantive due process, recognizing some right to avoid pain and suffering.

Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health

Due process, substantive

Moore v. City of East Cleveland

Right to die

Categories: History