Law & the Courts

The Corner

NY High Court Rejects Assisted Suicide Right

There is no constitutional right to assisted suicide, so the courts keep ruling.

In Washington v Glucksberg (1997), the Supreme Court of United States rejected an attempt to impose an assisted suicide Roe v. Wade.

State supreme courts have rejected state constitutional claims in Florida, New Mexico, and elsewhere.

In fact no high court in the USA has ever ruled that there is a constitutional right to assisted suicide (including in Montana, which issued a muddled ruling that assisted suicide did not violate public policy).

Now, New York can be added to the growing list.

First, a little background: The zealots at Compassion and Choices–formerly the more honestly named Hemlock Society–want the courts to pretend that when a doctor prescribes a lethal overdose for use in self-killing, it isn’t really suicide. This blatant word engineering attempt is rejected outright by the court. From the Meyers v. Schneiderman:

Suicide has long been understood as “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally.”…Black’s Law Dictionary defines “suicide” as “[t]he act of taking one’s own life,” and “assisted suicide” as “[t]he intentional act of providing a person with the medical means or the medical knowledge to commit suicide” (10th ed 2014). Aid-indying falls squarely within the ordinary meaning of the statutory prohibition on assisting a suicide.

Duh.

The court proceeds to reject the constitutional claim to assisted suicide by a terminally ill person on several grounds. Here’s one that bears noting: Refusing medical treatment when death is the likely outcome is not synonymous with a “right to die.”

Contrary to plaintiffs’ claim, we have never defined one’s right to choose among medical treatments, or to refuse life-saving medical treatments, to include any broader “right to die” or still broader right to obtain assistance from another to end one’s life…

We have consistently adopted the well-established distinction between refusing life-sustaining treatment and assisted suicide. The right to refuse medical intervention is at least partially rooted in notions of bodily integrity, as the right to refuse treatment is a consequence of a person’s right to resist unwanted bodily invasions.

Yup.

The court also notes that there is a rational basis for the state’s law against assisted suicide:

As to the right asserted here, the State pursues a legitimate purpose in guarding against the risks of mistake and abuse. The State may rationally seek to prevent the distribution of prescriptions for lethal dosages of drugs that could, upon fulfillment, be deliberately or accidentally misused.

This is very good. The last thing this country needs are courts imposing extra-democratically a radical social revolution against venerable values and mores, particularly in the face of hundreds of legalization rejections by voters and legislatures throughout the United States over the last twenty years.

One more point: When a social movement feels the need to hide its actual agenda beneath a veneer of gooey euphemisms (“aid in dying,” “death with dignity,” etc.) there is something very subversive about the agenda.

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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