The First Amendment protects an individual's right to advertise assisted suicide services, according to a unanimous Georgia Supreme Court. The justices came to this conclusion in a suit brought by four members of Final Exit Network, a "death with dignity" advocacy group.
The plaintiffs were prosecuted after helping a 58-year-old cancer patient commit suicide. Georgia's assisted suicide law makes it illegal to publicly offer or advertise suicide assistance.
This law was the only means of punishing the plaintiffs, according to the Associated Press. Georgia law does not prohibit assisted suicide. It does not prohibit the act of assisting suicide either.
The Georgia Supreme Court latched onto this discrepancy when explaining its ruling. Georgia's assisted suicide law effectively bans the public advertisement of a legal activity.
As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said, such content-based restrictions are unconstitutional unless "justified by a compelling interest [that] is narrowly drawn to serve that interest." The Georgia court did not find proof of any compelling and narrowly tailored state interest.
The court explained, "Had the state truly been interested in the preservation of human life ... it could have imposed a ban on all assisted suicides." Instead, the state banned the advertisement of such services in order to prevent a "Dr. Kevorkian type actor."
As a result of this decision, we may see an amendment to Georgia's assisted suicide law. It will probably be easier -- and cheaper -- for legislators to criminalize the actual act of assisting suicide than to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Georgia's Top Court Strikes Down State Law Limiting Assisted Suicide Ads (NPR)
- Assisted Suicide (FindLaw)
- State of Washington 'Death with Dignity' Act Goes Into Effect Thursday (FindLaw's Common Law)