NewYorkUniversity
LawReview

Issues

Author

Kristen Loveland

Results

Death and Its Dignities

Kristen Loveland

Dignity has been associated with death in two very different areas of constitutional jurisprudence: assisted suicide and the death penalty. This Note seeks to analyze what the concept of dignity means in these two contexts: who is the subject of dignity and what are dignity’s requirements? It argues that assisted suicide foregrounds the subjective dignity of the individual; what dignity involves is largely, though not wholly, a question of what an individual considers a dignified way to die. By contrast, the subject of dignity in death penalty jurisprudence is the collective and not the individual. Inasmuch as the jurisprudence claims to speak to the dignity of the individual, that dignity is objective and extends no further than collective dignity’s reach. As a result, what constitutes dignity in execution is almost wholly determined by what appears dignified to society. This Note ends by critically assessing how the two constitutional areas that link death and dignity may fruitfully inform each other. It suggests that assisted suicide’s individualistic dignity includes not just a right to decide how to die, but also a responsibility to collective society to consider how the nature of that suicide may impact collective dignity. In turn, in the death penalty context, states and courts should import subjective individual dignity considerations and reconsider whether their invocation of “dignity” in fact reflects a collective valuation of dignity or merely assuages social sensibilities by masking the reality of death.