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

55 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2014 Last revised: 1 Jun 2014

Date Written: March 1, 2014


In the United States, different people have different rights to die. After sketching the legal standards for hastening death, this article uses empirical research on “volunteers,” death-sentenced prisoners who hastened execution by dropping their appeals, to argue for integrating into adjudications of requests to hasten execution a Fourteenth Amendment analysis comparable to that used in medical cases. The article discusses socio-legal influences contributing to death-sentenced prisoners’ simultaneously more expansive and less protective right to assistance in dying. Further, it contends that death-sentenced prisoners are more successful in hastening death not simply because of their sentence, but because the law is responding to differently defined social problems. Paradoxically, in this case, the more expansive right reflects and furthers social marginalization. In addition to raising important questions about the legitimacy of the American death penalty, the Article illuminates the different ways in which rights to accelerate death can be implemented. In so doing, the Article contributes to the increasingly pressing political debate over ordinary Americans’ ability to end their own lives.

Keywords: death penalty, right to die

Suggested Citation

Rountree, Meredith, Criminals Get All the Rights: The Sociolegal Construction of Different Rights to Die (March 1, 2014). Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Forthcoming, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 14-26, Available at SSRN:

Meredith Rountree (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
3125030227 (Phone)

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