From a constitutional standpoint, the decision by Judge Rothstein is more significant than the Oregon initiative because her reasoning calls into question statutes against assisted suicide that are currently in effect in most American states and are part of traditional Anglo-American law. Her ruling goes far beyond the Oregon initiative (now the Death With Dignity Act), which created a narrow statutory exception in the law against assisted suicide. It establishes a broad, new constitutional right that will restrict legislative efforts to address this controversial social issue. The decision was unprecedented; no prior court had limited a state's authority to outlaw assisted suicide. And it is unfortunate: By failing to properly balance the relevant issues at stake, the decision in Compassion in Dying threatens to make a mockery of its name by increasing the vulnerability of elderly and infirm patients without demonstrably aiding those who might independently choose death. Relying heavily on this point and raising several other serious concerns, the Ninth Circuit federal court of appeals reversed Judge Rothstein's holding in a split decision issued after this Article was written and initially edited.
Edward J. Larson, Seeking Compassion in Dying: The Washington State Law Against Assisted Suicide, 18 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 509 (1995).