Physician-assisted suicide and public virtue: A reply to the liberty thesis of "the Philosophers' Brief"

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The "Philosophers' Brief," penned by six of today's most influential philosophers, was submitted as an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court as it prepared to consider the cases of Washington v. Glucksberg and Vacco v. Quill. It set precedent as the first such brief submitted by a group representing itself solely as moral philosophers. The brief became an overnight gold standard statement of the liberal philosophical understanding of the relationship of the State to so-called 'private morality.' The main thesis of the brief is that physician-assisted suicide regards the deeply personal event of death, and that individuals have a constitutionally guaranteed right to make decisions for themselves about the intimate details of their lives. In this article, James DuBois calls this the 'liberty thesis,' and he argues that the briefs application of this principle is both contradictory and impracticable. The contradiction arises as the brief proposes restrictions on the right to physician-assisted suicide - restrictions that require the State to abandon neutrality on intimate value judgments about life's worth. The impracticability arises insofar as the brief fails to leave room for a compelling State interest in promoting a minimal level of public virtue. Ironically, one of the strongest arguments that can be proffered on behalf of a State interest in preserving a minimal level of public virtue stems from its role in safeguarding human liberty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-179
Number of pages21
JournalIssues in Law and Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1999


Dive into the research topics of 'Physician-assisted suicide and public virtue: A reply to the liberty thesis of "the Philosophers' Brief"'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this