June 2008 Vol. 106 No. 8 THE REVIEW

Washington v. Glucksberg Was Tragically Wrong

Erwin Chemerinsky

Properly focused, there were two questions before the Supreme Court in Washington v. Glucksberg. First, in light of all of the other non-textual rights protected by the Supreme Court under the “liberty” of the Due Process Clause, is the right to assisted death a fundamental right? Second, if so, is the prohibition of assisted death necessary to achieve a compelling interest? Presented in this way, it is clear that the Court erred in Washington v. Glucksberg. The right of a terminally ill person to end his or her life is an essential aspect of autonomy, comparable to aspects of autonomy that the Court has protected in decisions concerning family autonomy, reproductive autonomy, and autonomy to engage in sexual activity. Moreover, the government’s general interest in protecting life and preventing suicide has far less force when applied to a terminally ill patient. The tragedy of Washington v. Glucksberg is that every day across the country, terminally ill patients are being forced to suffer longer and being denied an essential aspect of their autonomy and personhood.

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