Copyright (c) 1999 New York Law School Journal of Human Rights
New York Law School Journal of Human Rights
NOTE: Vacco v. Quill and the Debate Over Physician-Assisted Suicide:
Is the Right to Die Protected by the Fourteenth Amendment?
15 N.Y.L. Sch. J. Hum. Rts. 511
Kim C. Arestad
In Vacco v. Quill, 1 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that New York's ban on assisted suicide does not violate the Equal Protection Clause 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment. 3 Furthermore, the Court held it would not recognize that any previously established liberty interest 4 embodied the right to die. 5 By so holding, the Court has found that assisted suicide 6 is not a fundamental right, protected under the Equal Protection Clause. 7 The Court found that there is an "important, logical, and rational" 8 distinction between the right to withhold or withdraw life-support and the right to physician-assisted suicide. 9 The Court went on to state that "the Second Circuit erred in reading New York law as creating a "right to hasten death', instead, the authorities cited by the Court recognized a right to refuse treatment, and nowhere equate the exercise of this right with suicide." 10 The Court qualified its holding by saying that, although there is no constitutional right to assist in a suicide, a state can implement legislation that will protect physicians under limited circumstances, 11 thereby encouraging the individual states to experiment with legislation. 12 Therefore, while declaring a ban on physician-assisted suicide constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, 13 the Court did leave the issue open to further debate at the state level.
The background of Vacco v. Quill is examined in Part I, with Section A addressing the lower court ruling 14 and Section B ...
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