A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America

By Ian Dowbiggin | Go to book overview

4
Riding a Great Wave,
1960–1975

Few predicted it, but euthanasia suddenly burst onto the national scene in the 1960s and 1970s as an issue of sustained public interest. Under the shadow of nuclear war, in the wake of the thalidomide tragedy, amid a demoralizing war in southeast Asia, and in response to the aging of the U.S. population and the mounting use of life-prolonging medical technology, Americans became increasingly obsessed with death and terminal illness as experiences that deserved detailed study and discussion. 1 As a national dialogue on dying spread, the idea of death with minimal pain and loss of individual dignity grew popular. Thanks to the rising public interest in the concepts of patient autonomy and individual rights, euthanasia ceased being interpreted as a predominantly social or biological matter and was largely transformed into a personal issue. Increasingly it was viewed as a civil liberty, a freedom from interference in one's personal life, rather than a legal practice monitored (and possibly applied) by the state. Privacy became the keyword of the new, revitalized euthanasia movement, and the term “euthanasia” was steadily replaced by the phrase “the right to die.”

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