Whalen v. Roe 429 U.S. 589 (1977)

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WHALEN v. ROE 429 U.S. 589 (1977)

Rejecting a claim based on the constitutional right of privacy, a unanimous Supreme Court upheld a New York law requiring storage in a computer file of the names and addresses of persons who obtain, by doctors' prescriptions, such drugs as opium, methadone, cocaine, and amphetamines. Justice john paul stevens, writing for the Court, noted that previous decisions recognizing a right of privacy had involved two different kinds of interests: (1) "avoiding disclosure of personal matters"; and (2) "independence in making certain kinds of important decisions." Both interests were arguably implicated here; there was some risk of disclosure of a drug user's name, and that risk could have deterred the prescription or use of such drugs even when they were medically advisable. Nonetheless, and despite a district court finding that the state had not proved the necessity of storing this personal information, the Court concluded that the law was valid. The state's interest in drug regulation was vital; the legislature was entitled to experiment with reasonable means for achieving that end. Balanced against this objective, the invasions of privacy were too slight to constitute invasions of either patients' or doctors' constitutional liberties.

Kenneth L. Karst