Suicidal Contradictions

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate, argues that it is inconsistent for the law to prohibit assisted suicide while at the same time allowing mentally ill defendants to represent themselves in court.

So, why does the Supreme Court place such a premium on autonomy?on the rights of the accused to control his own trial? Partly because they are contemplating a sane defendant. And partly because there is a strange reification of "autonomy" in criminal defense cases that doesn't exist in most other areas of the law. "Autonomy" is not terribly important in right-to-die cases, for example. The Supreme Court seems to harbor a secret libertarian streak only, in fact, when it comes to lunatic mass murderers.

The thrust of her argument is that in order to resolve this inconsistency, courts or legislatures should raise the minimum standards required before we let people represent themselves in court. While this would eliminate the contradictions, she doesn't explain why we should choose this solution as opposed to eliminating the prohibition against assisted suicide.

If you don't have control over whether you live or die, but the government does, who really owns you?

UPDATE: Sasha Volokh is one step ahead of me. Curses!

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