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Rutgers Law Journal





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The legal debate regarding the right to commit suicide requires a critical review of the relationship between the individual and the community in present liberal political thought. Modern liberal political thought postulates that the government or community must be neutral about what is good both for members of the community and the community itself. It also postulates that there exists a sphere of action which affects solely an individual.

The neutrality postulate and the harm of self/harm to others dichotomy are best explicated by John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty, in which Mill separates and categorizes the individual and the community. This separation and categorization has animated much of constitutional law discourse over the past twenty-five years. In fact, the dichotomy has become an archetype for structuring a number of important constitutional law decisions. However, in tort, criminal, and other nonconstitutional law areas, this model is being replaced by a more communitarian model.

The use of Millian thought in constitutional law is an attempt to alleviate the tension between claims of right by an individual and claims of community interest by the state. Yet, review of legal responses to suicide will show that such an attempt (1) is in conflict with legal thought outside of constitutional law, and (2) cannot succeed in structuring a solution to a debate about a right to commit suicide, but can only result in exacerbating the tension found in American liberalism. Such a review shows that, by creating a right of autonomy which purports to dignify the individual, such a right instead cuts off the individual from other members of the community. In this situation, an ideal of reconciliation or hope for and from the community can no longer exist.

Recommended Citation

Michael S. Ariens, Suicidal Rights, 20 Rutgers L.J. 79 (1988).

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