Physician Assisted-Death

Amdt5.4.5.2.5.2 Physician Assisted-Death

Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

1 The Court made clear in a subsequent case, Washington v. Glucksberg,2 that it intends to draw a line between withdrawal of medical treatment and more active forms of intervention.

In Glucksberg, the Supreme Court rejected an argument that the Due Process Clause provides a terminally ill individual the right to seek and obtain a physician’s aid in committing suicide. Reviewing a challenge to a state statutory prohibition against assisted suicide, the Court noted that it moves with “utmost care” before breaking new ground in the area of liberty interests.3 The Court pointed out that suicide and assisted suicide have long been disfavored by the American judicial system, and courts have consistently distinguished between passively allowing death to occur and actively causing such death. The Court rejected the applicability of Cruzan and other liberty interest cases,4 noting that while many of the interests protected by the Due Process Clause involve personal autonomy, not all important, intimate, and personal decisions are so protected. By rejecting the notion that assisted suicide is constitutionally protected, the Court also appears to preclude constitutional protection for other forms of intervention in the death process, such as suicide or euthanasia.5

Footnotes
1
There was testimony that the patient in Cruzan could be kept “alive” for about 30 years if nutrition and hydration were continued. back
2
521 U.S. 702 (1997). In the companion case of Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793 (1997), the Court also rejected an argument that a state which prohibited assisted suicide but which allowed termination of medical treatment resulting in death unreasonably discriminated against the terminally ill in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. back
3
521 U.S. at 720. back
4
E.g., Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) (upholding a liberty interest in terminating pregnancy). back
5
A passing reference by Justice O’Connor in a concurring opinion in Glucksberg and its companion case Vacco v. Quill may, however, portend a liberty interest in seeking pain relief, or “palliative” care. Glucksberg and Vacco, 521 U.S. at 736–37 (Justice O’Connor, concurring). back

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