In a long-awaited decision, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that terminally ill patients do not have a legal right to physician-assisted suicide. However, the unanimous 9 to 0 vote does not preclude states from passing legislation that would allow doctors to help patients end their lives.
"Our decisions lead us to conclude that the asserted 'right' to assistance in committing suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the due-process clause," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said in the decision. However, some terminally ill patients might be able to claim a constitutional right to end their life with the assistance of a physician some time in the future. In one opinion, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that it's still an open question as to whether "a mentally competent person who is experiencing great suffering" has an "interest in controlling the circumstances of his or her imminent death," according to The New York Times.
Fortunately, advocates of physician-assisted suicide face an uphill battle. Currently, 35 states have banned the practice, with Iowa and Rhode Island passing laws just this past year. Nine other states have effectively banned the practice by prosecuting such cases under homicide law. Five -- North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Wyoming, and Utah -- have no laws regarding physician-assisted suicide, but could prosecute under homicide laws if presented with a case, according to USA Today.
Currently, Oregon has come the closest to making such a practice legal, when it passed the Death with Dignity Act. The Act, which was never implemented, allowed doctors to set up a system in which oral drugs could be given to terminally ill patients so that they could end their lives. The public will vote on the measure again in November, according to USA Today.