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Whalen v. Roe

United States Supreme Court
429 U.S. 589 (1977)


In 1970, in response to a concern that legitimate drugs were being diverted into unlawful channels, the New York state legislature created a special commission to evaluate the state’s drug-control laws. The commission was tasked with producing new legislation to help the state monitor and control drug use. The commission produced a new statute that classified potentially harmful drugs into five schedules. Schedule I included highly abused drugs that had no medical use and could not be prescribed. Schedules II through V included drugs with a progressively lower potential for abuse but with recognized medical purposes. Except in emergencies, the act requires all prescriptions for Schedule II drugs to be prepared in triplicate on an official form. The form includes personal information about the recipient of the drug, including his or her name and address. A copy of the form is forwarded to and kept by the New York State Department of Health. Once received by the Department, information is logged into a private computer. Forms are locked in a vault for five years and destroyed. Roe (plaintiff) represented a group of patients regularly receiving Schedule II drugs in New York. Roe brought suit in federal district court against Whalen (defendant), Commissioner of the New York Department of Health, alleging that the New York statute was unconstitutional as a violation of a patient’s right to privacy. The district court held the statute unconstitutional, and Whalen appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

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