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Studies in Law and Medicine

Suicide: The Next Pro-Life Frontier

Americans United for Life published “Studies in Law and Medicine” in the 1970s and 1980s, spotlighting issues pertaining to the human right to life across the bioethics spectrum. As Americans United for Life celebrates our 50th anniversary, we are making these issues available for the first time since their print publication.

Suicide: The Next Pro-Life Frontier by Dennis J. Horan and Edward R. Grant

Suicide, once a taboo subject, is recognized today as a leading public health problem period for example, suicide is now the third cause of death among adolescents, and the rate of suicide, particularly among teenagers, is increasing at an alarming rate. American attitudes towards suicide, however, remain ambivalent. The problem calls for public concern, increased attention to the mental health of adolescents, and improved suicide prevention efforts. 

At the same time, however, there is increasing clamor for acceptance of suicide as  as a “rational” choice, particularly for terminally ill and handicapped persons. “Self-deliverance” societies from France, Great Britain and the United States have boldly advocated this stance by publishing manuals with detailed recipes for lethal poisons. “Suicide pacts” have been publicized by the death of author Arthur Koestler and his wife, Cynthia, and by the death of Englishwoman Jean Humphry. Humphry’s husband, Derek, has since moved to the United States, remarried and founded the Hemlock Society, an organization striving to create social and moral acceptance of suicide and a legal right to assist at suicide. Proponents of this position have argued in court that a right to suicide is protected under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. 

All of these factors are converging to shape public policy and attitudes in the United States and to challenge the traditional attitude of opposition to suicide. That attitude is currently reflected in laws which make assisting at suicide a crime in most states in America as well as in most countries in the world.