Direct Paternalism: Punishing the Perpetrators of Self-Harm*

Abstract: The term “Direct Paternalism” in criminal law suggests the legitimacy of the state coersion is necessary in order to prevent one’s harm from one’s own voluntary actions. The present study examines whether the use of the criminal sanctions is suitable, via the theory analysis and use of specific examples as well.

Direct’ paternalism in criminal law refers to the use of the criminal sanction to penalise a person who harms or attempts to harm himself. Here, two questions arise. The first concerns direct paternalism generally: namely, the legitimacy of employing state coercion at all, to help prevent the person from injuring himself. The second question – which this essay particularly addresses – concerns the appropriateness of using the criminal sanction for this purpose. This latter issue is to be distinguished from (the more complex) question of ‘indirect’ penal paternalism: namely, the use of the criminal sanction to penalise someone for assisting another to harm himself.

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