A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America

A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America

A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America

A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America

Synopsis

How did today's debate over euthanasia (taken from the Greek word for 'good death') become so divisive in American society? In A Merciful End Ian Dowbiggin tells, for the first time, the dramatic story of those reformers who struggled throughout the twentieth century to change the nation's attitudes towards mercy killing and assisted suicide.Having had access to confidential records in the United States, England and Canada, and having interviewed leading figures in the American euthanasia movement, he reveals that euthanasia has been a contentious issue in America for over a century, long before Jack Kevorkian began helping patients to die. Over the course of the twentieth century, a group of public-spirited men and women tried to break down ancient Judeo-Christian prohibitions against mercy killing, overturn state lawscriminalizing assisted suicide, and convince the US Supreme Court that there is a right to die in the Constitution. In their eagerness to succeed, these euthanasia advocates have often sanctioned public policies that blur the fine line between choice and duty, freedom and coercion, the rights of theindividual and the needs of society. By the dawn of the twenty-first century, they had won some small victories, and the debate over whose lives were worth living still raged, but Dowbiggin argues that more and more Americans seemed to prefer better end-of-life care to sweeping changes in laws about euthanasia. America's euthanasia movement entered the twenty-first century ready and willing to fight new wars but facing an uphill battle against sentiments such as these.Original, wide-ranging in scope, but sensitive to the personal dimensions of euthanasia, A Merciful End is an illuminating and cautionary account of the tension between motives and methods within twentieth century social reform. It provides a refreshingly new perspective on an old debate.

Excerpt

On Sunday night, November 22, 1998, viewers of the CBS television program 60 Minutes watched in horror as Dr. Jack Kevorkian killed fifty-two-year-old Thomas Youk. Youk, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, had asked Kevorkian to end his life, and Kevorkian complied by injecting him with poison to stop his heart.

Youk was not the first person Kevorkian had helped to die, but he was likely the last. In 1999, the seventy-year-old Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to jail for ten to twenty-five years.

What Kevorkian had done was deliberately and mercifully hasten another person's death, an act of active “euthanasia,” taken from the Greek word for “easy death.” Acquitted of the charge of assisting suicide by three juries in the 1990s, Kevorkian crossed the line in 1998 by not only administering the lethal injection but also videotaping Youk's death and defying prosecutors to charge him. Kevorkian's goal in life is to overturn America's laws prohibiting both active euthanasia and assisted suicide, in which someone purposely . . .

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