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Justice O'Connor and the 'Right to Die': Constitutional Promises Unfulfilled

22 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2006  

Michael Patrick Allen

Stetson University - College of Law


After nearly twenty-five years on the bench, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor left the Supreme Court at the end of January 2006. There has been much discussion of Justice O'Connor's decisions in areas such as federalism, the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, and affirmative action, among other topics. But very little has been written about her important role in the development of federal constitutional law concerning the "right to die."

This Essay seeks to fill this gap in the literature by exploring Justice O'Connor's important concurring opinions in Cruzan and Glucksberg. I argue that these opinions created constitutional promises of a sort that remain unfulfilled as Justice O'Connor retires. I also explain why this need not have been the case while highlighting the real world consequences of the failure to live up to the promises.

Keywords: right to die, end of life decision-making, Justice O'Connor

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Allen, Michael Patrick, Justice O'Connor and the 'Right to Die': Constitutional Promises Unfulfilled. William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 14, pp. 1-22, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Michael Allen (Contact Author)

Stetson University - College of Law ( email )

1401 61st Street South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States

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