Glucksberg v. Washington & Quill v. New York
Compassion in Dying sponsored this case along with four physicians and three terminally-ill patients. The litigants sought recognition for terminally ill, mentally competent adults to choose aid-in-dying under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.
The case began in Washington State. A declaratory judgment was sought to exempt providing life-ending medication for terminally ill patients from the state’s law against assisting a suicide. The court found that providing those medications was in fact not exempt, leading to a U.S. Supreme Court challenge.
In 1997, the US Supreme Court declined to recognize the right to aid-in-dying. But the Court invited the individual states to address the issue. These cases are widely recognized as a catalyst for drawing attention to the care of the dying. The Court further recognized that dying patients have a federal constitutional right to obtain medication sufficient to relieve their pain even if the time of death is hastened as a result.
The Court concluded by saying, “Americans are engaged in an earnest and profound debate about the morality, legality and practicality of physician-assisted suicide. Our holding permits this debate to continue, as it should in a democratic society.”