A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America

By Ian Dowbiggin | Go to book overview

2
Breakthrough, 1920–1940

By the 1920s, euthanasia was no longer a secret in America. The popular and medical press had run stories on mercy killing, the first signs of a debate that would mark much of American life for the rest of the century. A motion picture, titled The Black Stork, about withholding surgery from a deformed newborn, had been released and was being shown commercially throughout the country. Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, and the editorial board of the New Republic had spoken out in favor of euthanasia.

Popular attitudes toward euthanasia also showed signs of movement. Most Americans in the interwar period agreed that there was something morally wrong about euthanasia as official policy, but that majority was growing slimmer as time went on. By 1939 roughly 40 percent of all Americans polled said they supported legalizing government-supervised mercy killing of the terminally ill. The times looked ripe for someone to exploit these shifts in popular sentiments. 1

No one believed more adamantly that this moment had arrived

-32-

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