Lesson Objectives:- The right to privacy
- The right to die
- Physician-assisted suicide
The Right to Privacy is not specifically addressed in the Constitution, but Justice William O. Douglas found a unique way of reading it in there.
When Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 was decided, the Supreme Court ruled against a Connecticut Law prohibiting contraceptives on the grounds that it violated the right of privacy. Justice William Douglas asserted that the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 9th Amendments create zones of privacy..."from those guarantees that help give them life and substance."
For instance, the 9th Amendment states, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." In other words, a right does not have to be explicitly expressed in the Constitution for it to exist.
Abortion brings an interesting but very controversial issue to the table concerning privacy. Initially, it was not illegal, but by the mid-to-late 1800s, states had passed laws that eventually did make it illegal.
Roe v. Wade in 1973 established that laws against abortion violated the right to privacy. Nonetheless, the government was allowed a degree of power over it.
Only in the first trimester was the issue solely between the mother and the doctor. In the second trimester, the states could exercise powers to control the conditions of the abortion, and by the third trimester, the states could prohibit it.
Opponents to abortion are active in their attempts to make it illegal again. They advocate politicians who share their views and they also organize passionate protests.
Some protests resulted in violence, so Congress passed a law in 1994 called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act that prohibits protestors from denying access into abortion clinics. There are even laws requiring a buffer zone.
A "partial-birth" abortion is one performed in late-term where the fetus is pulled out intact. The idea of that is completely unacceptable to anti-abortion activists who reject the idea of killing the fetus in the first place.
When a Nebraska law banning "partial-birth" abortions was brought before the Supreme Court in 2000, it was shot down because the justices were concerned that the law could be used to further ban other forms of abortion. However, that decision was reversed in 2007 when the Court allowed a similar law that banned partial-birth abortions to be passed by Congress.
A living will is a person's declaration of what they want to happen if they are ever on life-support. Can a family member make that decision for them if they know what the patient would want?
In 1976, Karen Ann Quinlan had been on life-support for nearly a year when her parents asked that she be taken off of it. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a patient who could not make her wishes known could do so through her parents.
The Supreme Court agreed in 1990 in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, but they added the stipulation that there had to be "clear and convincing evidence" that the patient refused treatment.
Terri Schiavo is the famous case from Florida concerning the matter of no living will. She had been on life-support for over a decade until her husband finally decided to have her feeding tube removed.
Her parents were against it. The case was heard and Terri's parents lost when the court decided that the spouse, and not the parents, has the right to make that decision. But, the case was not over. Even though opponents to the decision kept trying to fight it, the federal court ultimately upheld the decision of the Florida state court and the feeding tube was removed.
Physician-Assisted Suicide brings an interesting twist to the whole conversation. A person on life-support can refuse treatment ensuring their death and actually expediting it.
Can a person who is terminally-ill essentially do the same thing? When the issue reached the Supreme Court in 1997, it was decided that the Constitution does not offer any liberty to commit suicide.
In the end, though, the Supreme Court left the power to permit physician-assisted suicide to the states, and some allow it.