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US constitutional right to medical treatment

In the US constitution, the right to medical treatment is a liberty protected under substantive due process. Originally, this liberty was declared fundamental because of the importance of the right to bodily integrity. Today, the right has evolved into the liberty aspects of privacy and personal autonomy. However, it is important to remember that this is not an absolute right and must be weighed against the governmental interests. Under this liberty there are two main rights: the right to choose certain medical treatment and the right to refuse lifesaving hydration and nutrition.

First, the right to choose certain medical treatment was decided by one the most famous U.S. cases, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). In Roe, the Court concluded that even if a fetus is viable, a woman has the right to choose an abortion if the medical procedure is necessary to protect her health. There are two important holdings in Roe. A womanís right to choose an abortion and a womanís right to make choices concerning her health. Following the holding in Roe, courts have inferred the broader privacy right of individuals to make choices regarding their health.

Second, the right to refuse lifesaving hydration and nutrition was raised in the controversial case Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990). Here, the court addressed the parents request to remove their daughter from artificial food and hydration procedures. The Missouri Supreme court recognized prior decisions to refuse medical treatment, however, this case hinged on the fact that the daughter was in a vegetative state, therefore, not competent. The court refused the parentís request because the patient was not competent, there was no clear and convincing evidence that the decision would be consistent with to the patientís wishes while competent and there was no execution of a living will. The right to refuse medical treatment belongs to the individual not the personís family or friends. Since the right did not belong to the parents and the patient was not competent to express her wishes the states interest in preserving life was more compelling. Therefore, the patient remained on the lifesaving hydration and nutrition.

In conclusion, the right to medical treatment is a fundamental right protected under substantive due process. However, as seen from above the fundamental right is very fact sensitive and not absolute. In addition, this subject is extremely controversial and discussed in many facets of U.S. culture, such as religion, philosophers and medicine. The right to medical treatment is asserted by some to be an essential fundamental right to make decisions about oneís own body.

The fact remains, however, that United States Constitution says absolutely nothing about medical treatment. The "right to make decisions about one's own body" and the "right to medical treatment" are inferred by court decisions. Because a hypothetical "right to medical treatment" is a positive right -- it requires people other than the beneficiary to perform actions they might not choose to make if they were not coerced by the government -- many people believe that it is a privilege, not a "right."