Vacco v Quill was concerned with whether New York’s prohibition on assisting suicide violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The court of appeal agreed with the contention that removing life support services was the same as administering physician-assisted euthanasia. However, the Supreme Court reversed this decision, upholding New York’s  ban on assisted suicide and holding that terminally ill people do not have a right to physician-assisted suicide. The rationale behind this ruling was intent and causation, whether one dies from underlying causes or by the hands of a physician.

The Distinction

The distinction that the Supreme Court made between assisting suicide and refusal of life sustaining treatment is that a patient who dies from refusal of life sustaining treatment dies from that fatal disease. One who ingests lethal medication dies as a result of that medication. Such a distinction is valid, for purposes of preventing those who might want to end their lives mistakenly for various reasons other than fatal diseases. Chief Justice Rehnquist view that the equal protection clause did not create any substantive rights is to be applauded as also Justice O’Connor’s, that there is no right to commit suicide.

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