Document Type


Publication Date



This article will examine the history of suicide from antiquity, where certain types of self-killing were socially acceptable, to its evolution as a criminal wrong and its modern reincarnation as a moral and legal right. In the early Common Era, suicide was not a criminal wrong, but with the spread of Christianity, suicide became illegal. In the present day, a growing minority of states have legalized some forms of suicide or self-killing. In 2018, six states and the District of Columbia had legalized some form of physician-assisted suicide: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Twenty-three states are considering some type of death with dignity legislation in their 2018 session.

The rise of an individual's right to die has been concurrent with the rise and recognition of individual civil rights in the twentieth century, and more specifically an individual's right of privacy without state intervention. Part One explores the Anglo- Western historical treatment of suicide including its religious, legal, and social implications. Part Two focuses on the early American treatment of suicide. Part Three addresses the eugenic underpinnings of the early euthanasia movement and its legal transformation post-World War II as an individual right. Part Four concludes that the legalization of suicide is inevitable within a society which values individual autonomy and self-determination.