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Compassion in Dying v. State of Washington

79 F.3d 790 (1996)

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Compassion in Dying v. State of Washington

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

79 F.3d 790 (1996)

Facts

A Washington State (defendant) statute made it a felony to help another person to commit suicide. The legislation effectively banned physicians from prescribing life-ending medication for patients who were terminally ill and wished to die. Physicians (plaintiffs) treating terminally ill, competent adults (patients) (plaintiffs) who wished to end their lives with prescribed medication challenged the state statute by filing suit in district court. The physicians and patients argued that the statute impaired the liberty interests of terminally ill patients in violation of substantive-due-process rights protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The district court ruled that a terminally ill, competent adult has a substantive-due-process right guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to commit physician-assisted suicide as a liberty interest. The district court determined that the Washington statute placed an undue burden on a terminally ill, competent adult’s exercise of that liberty interest. The state appealed. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision on the basis that there was no liberty interest in physician-assisted suicide protected by substantive-due-process rights. The Ninth Circuit decided to rehear the case with all of its judges because of the importance of the decision.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Reinhardt, J.)

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