Should prisoners be allowed to access assisted suicide? Whereas the ethical and legal issues regarding assisted suicide have now been extensively discussed in the literature, surprisingly scarce attention has been given to the pressing issue of inmates requesting assistance in dying.
If assisted suicide is legal, it seems obvious that there should be equality of access. Even for prisoners? This is the question that Swiss bioethicist Yoann Della Croce tackles in the journal Bioethics, where she defends the view that the right to access assisted suicide, to be understood as a liberty that cannot be removed from incarcerated individuals. She argues that removing such a liberty cannot be consistently held within a legal framework where the death penalty does not exist, for doing so necessarily forgoes the State’s ability to decide on when and how prisoners’ lives end, in turn necessarily leaving them the liberty to end theirs when they decide so. I finally argue against the position that the capacity for autonomous choice is lacking in inmates by disentangling the particular features of the prison-setting and show that the context of incarceration is not so substantially different from regular cases of suicide assistance that it warrants a difference in treatment.
Assisted suicide rights for felons are not a burning human rights issue, but there have been prisoners who have invoked them – and no doubt demand will grow. A Belgian serial rapist and murderer, Frank Van Den Bleeken, requested euthanasia in 2015. In the end, his request was denied and he was moved to a specialist psychiatric facility. In 2018 a Swiss prisoner with incurable lung cancer and mental health issues requested the services of an assisted suicide organisation.
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