Death with Dignity for the Dying and the Damned

45 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2020

See all articles by Sarah Schofield

Sarah Schofield

University of Mississippi, School of Law, Students

Date Written: January 30, 2020


A troubling philosophical incongruity exists in the perception of end-of-life decisions by the terminally ill and by the convicted. When a member of the former faction accepts his imminent fate and embraces death via physician-assisted suicide, others inevitably attempt to dissuade him. However, the same concerns evaporate when a death row inmate abandons his remaining appeals and ‘volunteers’ to die. No bystander asks whether the years in solitary confinement compelled the inmate to abandon his appeals. No physician questions whether he possesses adequate faculties to effectuate a state-sponsored death. Often, no friend asks him to stay.

The disproportionality in procedural safeguards and assessments of competency among the two groups illuminates a stark dichotomy in the valuation of existing human life. While the terminally ill frequently face endless bureaucratic hurdles in the pursuit of medical autonomy, many death row inmates choose death by abandoning remaining appeals, usually without satisfactory oversight or meaningful judicial review.

Operating under the premise that volunteerism comprises a form of assisted suicide, this article urges the application of heightened judicial scrutiny in cases of abandoned death row appeals. This article also proposes a universal right to physician-assisted suicide for competent, terminally-ill patients. Compelling state interests in the protection of existing human life should not depend upon circumstance: if purely moralistic convictions must seep into legislative construction, they must be observed with impartiality.

Keywords: criminology, death row, volunteerism, physician assisted suicide, death with dignity, medical aid in dying, policy, medical autonomy

JEL Classification: K14, K32, Z18, I12

Suggested Citation

Schofield, Sarah, Death with Dignity for the Dying and the Damned (January 30, 2020). Mississippi Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Sarah Schofield (Contact Author)

University of Mississippi, School of Law, Students ( email )

MS 38677
United States

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