The United States Supreme Court granted review of two physician-assisted suicide decisions from the Second and Ninth Circuits. These cases involved state statutes that regulate and criminalize assisting in death. The Second Circuit in Quill v. Vacco found a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection violation in a New York statute because similarly situated individuals were classified in a manner that was not rationally related to a legitimate state interest. This decision pertained to competent, terminally ill adults who would be legally prohibited from seeking active intervention in hastening death, e.g., by a prescription of a lethal dose of medication, as compared to similarly situated persons who would be permitted passive intervention, e.g., by the removal of life support. In a unanimous decision, however, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit ruling and held that New York’s prohibition on assisted suicide does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Ninth Circuit in Compassion in Dying v. Washingtons recognized a liberty interest in the determination of the time and manner of death based upon the Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process Clause. The United States Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, however, essentially allowing states to legislate and prohibit physician-assisted suicide. This article discusses the decisions of the circuit courts in the above-mentioned cases and then analyzes the two United States Supreme Court opinions, which provide room for speculation as to future decisions in this area. Thereafter, a proposed model state act to authorize and regulate physician-assisted suicide is assessed along with a discussion of state legislative activity.
Christine Neylon O’Brien and Gerald A. Madek,
Physician-Assisted Suicide: New Protocol for a Rightful Death,
77 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol77/iss2/2