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Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly

Abstract

This Article analyzes constitutional challenges to bans on "assisted suicide" from the dual perspectives of an academic commentator and a constitutional litigator. The focus is on the application of such bans to the terminally ill. An absolute ban on the use of physician-prescribed medications by a terminally ill person to hasten that person's inevitable death, if and when the person chooses to do so, is an "undue burden" on that person's constitutionally protected liberty interest in personal autonomy. The "preserving life" justification typically asserted for bans on assisted suicide is insufficient in the case of a terminally ill person because there is no life left to preserve.

The Article concludes, however, that bans on assisted suicide applied to persons other than the terminally ill are generally constitutional, because the state may conclude that it is not objectively rational for people to commit suicide, and that the person attempting to do so may be suffering from a form of mental illness at that time. It is well-settled that the state may, consistent with due process, impose restrictions on a person's freedom in order to prevent that person from engaging in conduct that the state considers harmful to one's safety, such as committing suicide. The only exception is the situation where a person's decision to terminate life would be considered objectively rational, such as where a person has been so physically debilitated by disease that it is objectively reasonable for that person to conclude that life has become unendurable.

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