The Equal Protection Clause, U.S. Const. amend. XIV, commands that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This provision creates no substantive rights. Instead, it embodies a general rule that states must treat like cases alike but may treat unlike cases accordingly.
Appellee physicians asserted that although it would be consistent with the standards of their medical practices to prescribe lethal medication for mentally competent, terminally ill patients who were suffering great pain and desired a doctor's help in taking their own lives, they were deterred from doing so by New York's ban on assisting suicide, N.Y. Penal Law § 125.15. Appellant sought review of the judgment of the appellate court determining that New York's prohibition on assisting suicide, N.Y. Penal Law § 125.15, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court of United States reversed the judgment of the appellate court.
Did New York's prohibition on assisting suicide violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
The New York criminal statutes did not violate the equal protection clause, because (1) the criminal statutes neither infringed fundamental rights nor involved suspect classifications; (2) on their faces, neither the statutes banning assisted suicide nor the statutes permitting the refusal of medical treatment treated anyone differently than anyone else or drew any distinctions between persons; (3) the distinction between assisting suicide and refusing lifesaving medical treatment was important, logical, and rational; and (4) New York's reasons for recognizing and acting on the distinction between assisting suicide and refusing lifesaving medical treatment were valid and important public interests. Thus, it was entitled to a strong presumption of validity.