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Harold Glucksberg was a doctor in the State of Washington. He filed suit to challenge a state statute criminalizing assisted suicide, including physician-assisted suicide. Glucksberg asserted that the liberty interest guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause was sufficiently broad to protect what he termed the right to die.
Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court accepted the case to determine whether a fundamental right to assisted suicide existed under the Due Process Clause. And the Court unanimously concluded that there was no such fundamental right.
Fundamental rights are deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions. Not only did assisted suicide not meet that definition, most states had prohibited it all the way back to colonial days. Because no fundamental right to assisted suicide existed, Washington was within its rights to prohibit the practice.
Importantly, in so holding, the Court distinguished assisted suicide from the right to refuse life-saving medical treatment, which it held to be protected by the Due Process Clause in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990).
This case remains significant for its clarification of the constitutional limits for protection of the so-called right to die.