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The Quill case and the right to die

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I haven't kept up with the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide over the years.

At the moment it is a Big Subject, because presumptive Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is the author of a book on it. So I'm doing some catch-up research.

Part of that is familiarizing myself with Vacco v. Quill, a 1997 decision by the Supreme Court that plays a big part in Gorsuch's book.

The decision, and all six opinions, may be found here.

Despite the proliferation of opinions, the judgment itself was unanimous -- all opinions aside from C.J. Rehnquist' for the court were concurrences.

Here's a brief quote from the Rehnquist opinion. I promise to come back soon and say something judgmental about it. Please regard this post as a mere IOU.

Anyway: the quote:

"[W]e disagree with respondents' claim that the distinction between refusing lifesaving medical treatment and assisted suicide is 'arbitrary' and 'irrational.' ... Granted, in some cases, the line between the two may not be clear, but certainty is not required, even were it possible. Logic and contemporary practice support New York's judgment that the two acts are different, and New York may therefore, consistent with the Constitution, treat them differently."


  1. I agree with Rehnquist that the distinction is not arbitrary or irrational. Refusing lifesaving medical treatment generally causes a terminally ill person to suffer more, and a legislator or judge may get pleasure from making people suffer. If so, he is not acting arbitrarily or irrationally in outlawing assisted suicide.

    In 1992, a baby was born without a brain. She was certain to die within a few days, and some people sought to kill her and transplant her organs to other newborns. Charles Krauthammer argued against allowing this, on the ground that, despite lacking a brain, the baby was capable of feeling pain. I had a letter published in the Washington Post stating, "Now that's a wonderful reason to keep her alive. We certainly wouldn't want to deny her the opportunity to suffer for the few days she has to live, as her valuable organs waste away."

    1. I fear that my second sentence was unclear. I meant, "Refusing lifesaving medical treatment generally causes a terminally ill person to suffer more than does assisted suicide ... ."


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