Duquesne Law Review


Recent advocacy of a right to suicide raises the question of whether statutes which penalize the assistance of suicide and the widespread practice of intervention to stop suicide attempts are unconstitutional. This article considers the claim that the right of privacy or substantive due process encompasses autonomy to do whatever affects no one else, and concludes that the Supreme Court has recognized only those forms of autonomy that it has deemed to be rooted in the traditions and history of our society. After outlining the attitudes toward suicide at various stages in Western Civilization, focusing on Anglo- American history and particularly on the legal tradition, the authors conclude that the predominant approach has been to discourage suicide and to penalize its assistance, while, at least in American history, to treat rather than condemn the suicide attempter. In their view, suicide has not historically been treated as a fundamental right. The article then relates psychological and sociological evidence that those who attempt suicide are normally ambivalent, usually do so for reasons other than a settled desire to die, and are predominantly the victims of mental disorder. Finally, the authors argue that societal sanctions for suicide would lead to manipulation by others and social pressure that would induce many unstable individuals, who would otherwise be helped, to commit suicide. For these reasons, the authors regard recognition of a right to suicide as unjustified and undesirable.

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