How do we save civilization? physician William Duncan McKim asked rhetorically in 1900. A “gentle, painless death” for America's drunkards, criminals, and people with disabilities was his answer. The only thing that stood in the way, McKim explained, was the “unreasonable dogma that all human life is intrinsically sacred.” The march of science, he concluded, dictated that Americans give up this long-standing religious belief. 1
McKim's secular and scientific rationales for euthanasia in the early twentieth century signaled a revolutionary challenge to literally hundreds of years of Judeo-Christian teaching about the dignity of human life. For centuries, euthanasia had normally been understood to mean the process whereby the relief of pain for the dying was the best way to ensure an “easy death.” However, that changed in the late nineteenth century when euthanasia acquired its modern connotation. For the first time in history, people began defining it as actual mercy killing. 2
Thanks to radically new currents of thought during the second half of the nineteenth century, a handful of Americans such as Mc
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Publication information: Book title: A Merciful End:The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America. Contributors: Ian Dowbiggin - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 1.
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