Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


October 1, 1996 - OLYMPIA -- State Attorney General Christine Gregoire said today she is pleased the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear both Washington's and New York's assisted suicide cases in tandem.

"Assisted suicide is a watershed issue with national public policy implications," said Gregoire. "Understanding this, the Court appropriately decided to hear the full range of legal issues involved in both cases."

Washington is appealing a Ninth Circuit Court ruling limiting the application of the state's ban on assisted suicide. Washington's case began in 1994 when a non-profit organization, Compassion in Dying, four physicians and three now-deceased terminally ill individuals, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the legality of the state's ban on physician-assisted suicides based on a law enacted by the Territorial Legislature in 1854.

In March 1996, the Ninth Circuit Court issued a ruling limiting the application of Washington's assisted suicide law basing its decision on the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The AG filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in July after the Ninth Circuit decided not to reconsider its decision.

In New York's case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the due process argument, but found New York's statute violated the constitutional equal protection clause. Despite their differences, the bottom line in both cases is whether public policy should be made by the court's or the legislature and the people.

"We will continue, as we have throughout this litigation, to defend the statute and protect the ability of the State Legislature and Washington voters to decide what the law should be," said Gregoire. "I have great compassion for the terminally ill and their families. They want and deserve to have this case resolved as quickly as possible and the Court's decision to accept both cases will provide answers to this important issue."

The Court will hear oral arguments in January of next year with a decision on or before June 30, 1997.