Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


July 3, 1996 - The Attorney General's Office has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal the 9th Circuit ruling that limited the application of Washington's ban on assisted suicide.  

The legal issue in the case is whether public policy should be made by the state legislature or by the federal judiciary. Throughout this litigation, the AG's Office has defended the statute, which was initially enacted by the legislature in 1854, and sought to protect the ability of the legislature - or the people directly through the initiative process - to change the law. That is the basis of the appeal.  

The case began in 1994 when Compassion in Dying, a non-profit organization, along with four physicians and three now-deceased terminally-ill individuals, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the state statute against promoting or assisting in another's suicide. Only the four physicians are parties in the Supreme Court appeal, since the patients are no longer alive and the claims of the non-profit corporation, (Compassion in Dying) were not decided by the District Court judgment that is the subject of the appeal. The name of the case in the Supreme Court is: State of Washington, et al v. Glucksberg, et al.  

Attorney General Christine Gregoire has maintained assisted suicide is a watershed issue of public policy that requires the review and analysis of our nation's highest court. The "Petition for Certiorari," (the formal process for seeking Supreme Court review) was mailed today, two days before the official deadline. Under Supreme Court rules, the date the petition is mailed is considered the filing date. Plaintiffs will have 30 days to reply to the petition.  

Because the Supreme Court is in its summer recess, no decision on whether it will take the case is likely until the term begins on the first Monday in October. If it agrees to hear the case, oral arguments would not be expected until sometime in early 1997. The New York Attorney General's Office has filed a similar appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York appeal involves a decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals which invali dated similar laws in New York. It is expected the Supreme Court also will decide whether to take that case in the fall as well.