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Vacco v. Quill
Supreme Court of the United States (1996)


This case raises the question whether individuals throughout the United States will be granted a right protected by the United States Constitution to seek and receive assistance in committing suicide. The courts below, on differing grounds, held that the states of New York and Washington could not proscribe assisting another person to commit suicide. Quill v. Vacco, 80 F.3d 716 (2nd Cir. 1996); Compassion in Dying v. State of Washington, 79 F.3d 790 (9th Cir. 1996).

Amici believe that these appellate courts have misread precedents handed down by this Court in recent years and have invented a "right to die" not contemplated by any provision of our Constitution.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (the "UOJCA") is a non-profit synagogue umbrella organization for over 1,000 Jewish congregations throughout the United States. It is the largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization in North America. Through its Institute for Public Affairs, the UOJCA researches and advocates the legal and public policy positions promoted by the Orthodox Jewish community. The UOJCA has joined in filing briefs with this Court in many of the important cases which affect the Jewish community and American society at large. See, e.g., Bd. Of Ed. of Kiryas Joel v. Grumet,114 S.Ct. 2481 (1994); Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills Sch. Dist., 113 S.Ct. 2462 (1993).

The Rabbinical Council of America is the sister organization of the UOJCA serving as the largest rabbinical organization in the world with a membership in excess of 1,000 rabbis.

We are supporting the petitioners in this case because we believe that the invention of a constitutionally protected "right to die" is at odds with the language, history, policies, and sound judicial understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment of our Constitution.

We have obtained the consent of the parties in each action to file this brief. We acknowledge that the opinions of the lower courts and the briefs of the parties to this case have raised many of the arguments which this Court must consider in rendering its decision herein. Amici offer this brief to the Court with the purpose of clarifying the position of the Orthodox Jewish community and, importantly, the position of traditional Jewish teaching with regard to this issue. We believe this is particularly important in this case because the lower courts (the Ninth Circuit in particular) have purported to discuss the approach of ancient and historical traditions to assisted suicide.


  1. The Court should reverse the holding of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This Court has clearly established that those rights deemed to be "fundamental" and thus protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment are those which are either implicit in our concept of ordered liberty or deeply rooted in this nation's traditions and history. A right to physician assisted suicide is neither. As demonstrated by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in its discussion of this issue, such a right is clearly not implicit in our concept of ordered liberty. As amici demonstrate in this brief, to the degree that our nation's traditions and history are derived from our Judeo-Christian heritage, it is clear that this right cannot be said to enjoy such a pedigree either. The Jewish tradition clearly prohibits the active assistance of suicide. Moreover, in inventing a new "right to die," the Ninth Circuit ignored this Court's clear admonitions against expanding the list of fundamental rights extrapolated from the Due Process Clause. The Ninth Circuit also misread this Court's holdings in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health to elicit this new fundamental right. Neither of those cases, properly read, provide a basis for the Ninth Circuit's recognition of a constitutionally protected "right to die."

  2. The Court should reverse the holding of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. First, the State of New York has not (nor has the State of Washington) established a classification scheme which treats similarly situated terminally ill persons differently. In fact, New York has not created a classification scheme with regard to terminally ill persons altogether, for its ban on assisting suicide applies to the healthy and the ill equally. Second, even assuming that New York has created such a classification scheme, it is rationally related to a host of state interests most notably, the state's interest in ensuring that the value of every human life is respected -- and thus is constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
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