Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Suicide as a Constitutional Right?

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Suicide as a Constitutional Right?

Article excerpt

Suicide as a Constitutional Right? The federal and state court systems have finally begun to address the charged issue of physician-assisted suicide. Just this past May, both a Michigan intermediate appellate court and a federal trial court in Washing ton State invalidated statutes prohibiting assisted suicide. The cases rested on claims that informed, competent, terminally ill adults are constitutionally entitled to physician-assisted suicide. However, the Michigan court relied on a technical drafting flaw while opining that the Constitution does not include a right to commit suicide. In contrast, the federal court based its decision on the existence of a fundamental constitutional right to suicide.

* The Michigan decision (Hobbins v. Attorney General, 10 May 1994) consolidated and reviewed appeals from three trial court cases involving a recently enacted Michigan statute passed in the wake of Jack Kevorkian's widely publicized efforts to help the incurably ill commit suicide. The statute makes assisted suicide a felony and established a state commission to study assisted suicide. The court determined that the statute violates a Michigan constitutional prohibition against passing a law that groups two objects in one act. The legislature should not have combined the state commission and the criminal law in one measure. Although this ruling determined the appeals, the court went on to address the contention that banning assisted suicide violates a Fourteenth Amendment liberty right.

The court found that identifying a fundamental constitutional right not found in the text of the Constitution requires two inquiries: first, whether the alleged right is "deeply rooted in our Nation's history and tradition"; second, whether the alleged right is "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty" such that "neither liberty nor justice would exist if [it] were sacrificed. …

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