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Washington v. Glucksberg

Washington v. 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 assisted suicide in the United States was not protected by the Due Process Clause.

Washington v. Glucksberg
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued January 8, 1997
Decided June 26, 1997
Full case nameWashington, et al., Petitioners v. Harold Glucksberg, et al.
Citations521 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
Case history
Prior850 F. Supp. 1454 (W.D. Wash. 1994); reversed, 49 F.3d 586 (9th Cir. 1995); reversed on rehearing en banc, 79 F.3d 790 (9th Cir. 1996).
Due Process Clause does not protect the right to assistance in committing suicide.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
MajorityRehnquist, joined by O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas
ConcurrenceO'Connor, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer


Dr. Harold Glucksberg, a physician; four other physicians; three terminally-ill patients; and the non-profit organization Compassion in Dying 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.

On May 3, 1994, US District Court Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein ruled in favor of Glucksberg.[2] On March 9, 1995, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, with Judge John T. Noonan Jr. joined by Diarmuid O'Scannlain.[3] Then, after rehearing the case en banc, the Ninth Circuit on May 28, 1996, reversed the earlier panel and affirmed the District Court's decision, in an opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt.[4]

Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which was granted. The case was argued before the Supreme Court on January 8, 1997. Walter E. Dellinger III, the acting Solicitor General of the United States, appeared as an amicus curiae, urging reversal.[5] The question presented was whether the protection of the Due Process Clause included a right to commit suicide and to commit suicide with another's assistance.


Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion for the court. His decision reversed the Ninth Circuit's decision that the ban on physician-assisted suicide was a violation of the Due Process Clause. The Court held that because assisted suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest, it was not protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. As previously decided in Moore v. East Cleveland,[6] 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,[7] 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[8] 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 it declared physician-assisted suicide a constitutionally protected right, it 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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997).
  2. ^ Compassion in Dying v. Washington, 850 F. Supp. 1454 (W.D. Wash. 1994).
  3. ^ Compassion in Dying v. Washington, 49 F.3d 586 (9th Cir. 1995).
  4. ^ Compassion in Dying v. Washington, 79 F.3d 790 (9th Cir. 1996).
  5. ^ "Washington v. Glucksberg." Oyez, Accessed 24 Apr. 2017.
  6. ^ Moore v. City of East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494 (1977).
  7. ^ Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
  8. ^ Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).

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