Physician-assisted suicide and the Supreme Court: the Washington and Vacco verdicts

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry



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Medical Subject Headings

Advisory Committees; Government Regulation; Humans; Intention; New York; Persons; Professional Autonomy; Resuscitation Orders; Right to Die; Suicide, Assisted; *Supreme Court Decisions; United States; Value of Life; Vulnerable Populations; Washington; Withholding Treatment


Law | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry


In June 1997, the Supreme Court decided that statutes proscribing physicians from providing lethal medication for use by competent, terminally ill patients do not violate the Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution. The Court returned the question of physician-assisted suicide to the states, but did not foreclose future review of state laws that may be too restrictive of care at the end of life. The conceptual distinctions between assisted suicide, refusal of life-sustaining treatment, and administration of pain medication to terminally ill patients were endorsed as important guideposts for future analyses.

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Citation: J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1997;25(4):595-606.

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