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Assisted Suicide, Morality, and Law: Why Prohibiting Assisted Suicide Violates the Establishment Clause

Posted by on Friday, April 30, 2010 in Articles, Volume 63, Number 3, Volumes.

This Article argues that general prohibitions against assisted suicide violate the Establishment Clause because they support a particular and religiously based moral position. Many laws overlap with religious proscriptions, of course. The conclusion that laws against assisted suicide are unconstitutional because of their religious origin is based on the specific historical context of these laws within our existing culture. Over the course of Western civilization, attitudes about suicide have oscillated from positive approbation in many Greek and Roman sources, to outright and unalterable opposition by Christian writers, to acceptance and limited approval by contemporary secular thinkers and health practitioners. At present, traditional, Christian-based morality and an emerging secular morality centered on the value of self-fulfillment are in conflict within our society, a conflict that probably reflects a slow historical transition from the first to the second. The intense debate about the morality of assisted suicide is one aspect of this conflict. Blanket prohibitions of assisted suicide support one side of this debate, a side that happens to be allied with the Christian religion. Consequently, these laws violate the Establishment Clause.