Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly


Proponents of assisted suicide claim a constitutional right for competent adults with terminal conditions or unbearable suffering to receive a physician-prescribed lethal dose of drugs. Critics respond that any such right cannot be confined to such narrow categories in view of the abortion and withdrawal-of-treatment precedents and the force of reason and experience. Beyond the "slippery slope" that any constitutionally protected liberty to assisted suicide portends, such an asserted right has no historical basis and cannot be derived from principals implicit in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The claim that "rational" assisted suicide is a right presumes a set of restraints and conditions on the right's exercise that cannot be adduced from the Constitution. Threshold requirements of "terminal condition" or "unbearable suffering" on the exercise of such a right are too vague or ambiguous to form cognizable bases to distinguish constitutionally protected conduct from conduct that might be penalized by the state. Further, neither proposed threshold requirement has any constitutional basis. Finally, awarding physicians a special right to assist in suicide is not supported by any hypothetical state interest, subverts state interests in the protection of life and health, and is contrary to expressed ethical policies of the medical profession.