Criminals Get All the Rights: The Sociolegal Construction of Different Rights to Die

Martin Rountree, Meredith | January 1, 2015

In the United States, different people have different rights to die. This Article traces the origins of death-sentenced prisoners’ ability to enlist assistance in dying and compares it to the considerably more circumscribed right held by people with serious illness. It uses empirical research on “volunteers,” death-sentenced prisoners who sought execution, to argue that the legal standard for adjudicating their requests to hasten execution should be changed. Empirical evidence suggests many of the concerns governing the regulation of assisted dying in the medical context are present in the death row case. This Article therefore urges courts to use a balancing test comparable to that developed in cases involving assisted dying in the medical context. Further, counsel should be appointed to articulate the state’s interests in subjecting the conviction and sentence to appellate review.