Assisted Suicide Ban Upheld

FRIDAY, MARCH 10, 1995

A Washington law barring doctors from helping terminally ill patients die protects the poor and handicapped and keeps doctors from becoming “killers of their patients,” a federal appeals court said Thursday in upholding the ban.

It was the first ruling by a federal appeals court on the validity of an anti-assisted suicide law, an issue that gained prominence with Michigan’s prosecution of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and Oregon voters’ passage of a right-to-die law.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the claim of a right to doctor-assisted suicide has no basis in the “traditions of our nation” and is “antithetical to the defense of human life that has been a chief responsibility of our constitutional government.”

The appellate ruling, written by Judge John Noonan, overturns a lower court decision calling the law unconstitutional. Noonan was an anti-abortion legal theoretician and Catholic scholar before his appointment to the bench by President Reagan in 1986.

Noonan, joined by Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, wrote that the right to privacy may encompass freedom from unwanted medical intervention, but not “the right to have a second person collaborate in your death.”

Noonan said any “alleged liberty of suicide” was outweighed by numerous legitimate interests of the state, including, “The interest in not having physicians in the role of killers of their patients.”

Judge Eugene Wright, who dissented in the 2-1 ruling, said the law violates “the right to die with dignity (in accord with) the American values of self-determination and privacy.”

Constitutionally protected privacy includes the right of mentally competent adults “to be free from unwarranted state interference in their last days,” Wright said.


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