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Unpublished Paper
Suicide, Law and Morality
ExpressO (2008)
  • Edward Rubin

Dear Editors,

The enclosed article argues that blanket prohibitions against assisted suicide are unconstitutional. This position has been advanced by a number of commentators, who have generally based their argument on the so-called right to die. From a constitutional perspective, however, this right can only be grounded on either substantive due process or the right of privacy, that is, the penumbra of the first eight amendments. While the argument isn’t necessarily wrong, it suffers from its reliance on aggressive and controversial interpretations of the constitutional text.

The position this article advances is that prohibitions against assisted suicide violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Locating attitudes toward suicide in their historical context, the article argues that the intense controversy about assisted suicide and the related issue of terminating life support reflects the conflict between two moral systems, one traditional and the other evolving. It further argues that because one of these conflicting systems is religiously based, any governmental action that favors this morality over its rival violates the Establishment Clause. Many laws have religious origins, of course, and the Supreme Court has recently moderated its Establishment Clause doctrine. But blanket prohibitions against assisted suicide have no secular justification, and unlike the typical Establishment Clause issue (such as display of a crèche or recitation of a prayer), they coerce people by prohibiting and punishing a desired course of behavior.

Thanks for your consideration.

  • Suicide,
  • Law and Morality
Publication Date
September 8, 2008
Citation Information
Edward Rubin. "Suicide, Law and Morality" ExpressO (2008)
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