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Law School Case Brief

Whalen v. Roe - 429 U.S. 589, 97 S. Ct. 869 (1977)

Rule:

Cases characterized as protecting "privacy" involve at least two different kinds of interests. One is the individual interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters, and another is the interest in independence in making certain kinds of important decisions.

Facts:

The New York State Controlled Substances Act of 1972, N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 3300 et seq. (1976) scheduled all controlled substances and required a centralized filing system of all prescriptions written for controlled substances that had potential for abuse. The district court ruled that the Act was unconstitutional.

Issue:

Does the New York State Controlled Substances Act of 1972 violate privacy rights?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court reversed the judgment and held that the law did not violate privacy rights because it established adequate measures to protect individual privacy and that there was no evidence that the law had affected any patient's decision to obtain a prescription. The Court agreed that there was a constitutionally protected zone of privacy that included the interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters and the interest in independence in making important personal decisions. The Court held the law adequately protected privacy when it limited access to the lists and built in protection from disclosures.

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