By affirming a district court decision holding Washington's criminal prohibition of assisted suicide unconstitutional, an en banc Ninth Circuit in Compassion in Dying v. Washington reversed a three judge panel decision and proffered the most reasoned and carefully drafted opinion yet in the battle surrounding terminally ill patients and their quest to legally pursue physician-assisted suicide. Three terminally ill patients, five physicians who treat terminally ill patients, and Compassion in Dying, an organization that provides counseling and assistance to mentally competent, terminally ill adults considering suicide, challenged the statute under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Asserting that mentally competent, terminally ill adults have a right to voluntarily hasten their death by taking a lethal dose of physician prescribed drugs, they sought both declaratory and injunctive relief' All three patients were suffering from the terminal phases of their respective illnesses and used pseudonyms to protect their privacy. They were Jane Roe, a sixtynine- year-old retired pediatrician suffering from breast cancer, which had spread throughout her skeleton; John Doe, a forty-four-year-old artist suffering from AIDS, who had lost seventy percent of his vision due to a degenerative eye disease that would eventually cause total blindness; and James Poe, a sixty-nine-year-old retired sales representative suffering from emphysema, a condition which caused a constant suffocating sensation, requiring him to use an oxygen tank at all times and take morphine regularly to ease the panic associated with his feeling of suffocation. Jane Roe and John Doe both died before the district court rendered its judgment, and James Poe died soon thereafter. The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington declared the statute unconstitutional under both a Due Process and Equal Protection analysis, but declined to enjoin its enforcement. In a decision blatantly driven by the religious and personal biases of the majority, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding no constitutional support for the right of mentally competent, terminally ill adults to voluntarily hasten death with a lethal dose of physician prescribed drugs. On March 16, 1996, the Ninth Circuit en banc reversed the panel and upheld the district court.
Tyde, Stephen J. Jr.
"Compassion in Dying v. Washington: A Resolution to the "Jurisprudence of Doubt" Enshrouding Physician-Assisted Suicide?,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 47:
4, Article 7.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol47/iss4/7