Vacco v. Quill

United States Supreme Court
521 U.S. 793 (1997)


Facts

Quill, two other physicians, and three gravely ill patients (plaintiffs) sued Vacco (defendant), the New York Attorney General in federal court alleging that the state’s assisted-suicide ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Quill argued that, even though the results are the same, the state allows a competent person to lawfully refuse life-sustaining medical treatment but makes it unlawful for a competent person to obtain physician-assisted suicide. The district court disagreed with Quill but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that New York’s law does not treat all competent persons equally in the final stages of a terminal illness. The court noted that terminally ill patients on life-support systems are allowed to remove such support, thereby hastening death, but those not on life-support systems are not allowed to self-administer drugs that would similarly result in death. This unfair treatment under the law violates the Equal Protection Clause. Additionally, the state statutes banning such actions were not rationally related to any legitimate state interest. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

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Holding and Reasoning (Rehnquist, C.J.)

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