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As I write, the Supreme Court has just agreed to hear Compassion in Dying v. Washington and Quill v. Vacco, the two cases in which United States circuit courts of appeals held that a state may not constitutionally prohibit physicians from helping a terminally ill person who wishes to commit suicide to do so. These cases have already received lavish comment and criticism, and no doubt the Supreme Court's opinion will garner even more. Reasonably enough, most of this analysis addresses the merits of physician-assisted suicide as social policy. I, here, want to talk about how setting bioethical policy through constitutional adjudication actually works and how its usefulness is diminshed by some practical deficiencies.


Reprinted with the permission of the Hastings Center Report and Wiley-Blackwell.