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Vacco v. Quill

A Two-edged Sword, Equal Protection?, Omission And Commission, Impact, States That Allow Assisted Suicide


Dennis C. Vacco, Attorney General of New York, et al.


Timothy E. Quill, Samuel C. Klagsbrun, Howard A. Grossman

Petitioners' Claim

That a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit invalidating a New York State statute banning physician-assisted suicide was incorrect.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioners

Barbara Gott Billet, Solicitor General; Daniel Smirlock, assistant Attorney General; Michael S. Popkin, Assistant Attorney General

Chief Lawyer for Respondents

Laurence H. Tribe, David J Burman, Carla A. Kerr, Peter J. Rubin, Kari Anne Smith, Kathryn L. Tucker

Justices for the Court

Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, William H. Rehnquist (writing for the Court), Antonin Scalia, David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens, Clarence Thomas

Justices Dissenting



Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

26 June 1997


Reversed the court of appeals to rule that New York State's ban on physician-assisted suicide did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


The ruling provided constitutional sanction to state laws banning physician-assisted suicide. By determining that there was a qualitative legal difference between denying life-prolonging treatment to terminally ill patients and assisting in their death, the Court validated existing statutes in many states, and confirmed that states could draft laws banning assisted suicide that were able to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Related Cases

  • Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246 (1952).
  • United States v. Bailey, 444 U.S. 394 (1980).
  • Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990).
  • Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996).


Pertman, Adam. "Bills Aim to Disarm Oregon Law on Suicide." Boston Globe, 7 October 1998.

Additional topics

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