The Right to Die Debate: A Documentary History

The Right to Die Debate: A Documentary History

The Right to Die Debate: A Documentary History

The Right to Die Debate: A Documentary History


Rapid changes in medical care and in society's attitudes about death have made the right-to-die debate a timely topic, but its roots can be traced back to the founding of this country. High school and college students can explore the history of this debate through this unique collection of primary documents. Government reports, court cases, statements from religious groups, and many other contributions provide a thorough examination of the arguments for and against allowing people to make their own decisions about how and when they die. An explanatory introduction precedes each document to aid the user in understanding the various arguments that have been put forth in this debate, encouraging consideration from all sides when drawing conclusions.


Karen Orloff Kaplan

As the twentieth century draws to a close, we can look with pride and satisfaction at the abundant wonders brought about by the technological revolution. In no area of endeavor have there been greater strides than in medicine. We are surrounded daily by the medical miracles that have improved the quality of millions of lives and saved millions more. Antibiotics, transplant technology, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and lifesupport systems such as ventilators and kidney dialysis are just a few of the spectacular gifts of modern medicine.

However, in recent decades, we have learned that the great technical strides in medicine have another, quite different aspect. In addition to embracing modern medicine to save and improve life, physicians can and frequently do use this technology to prolong the dying process. As physicians became increasingly adept at using developing technology and justifiably dependent upon it, they began to be uncomfortable with the notion that some patients ultimately could not be saved. Medical professionals received a great deal of positive reinforcement for refusing to "give up," and many looked upon the death of a patient as a failure of their own.

Physicians are not the only ones who encourage the use of technology to postpone the moment of death. The public also puts a great deal of pressure on the health care system to do everything possible for every patient. Thus, well beyond a point where cure or even improvement in quality of life is possible, our health care system utilizes technology to defer the inevitable moment of death, and many patients and their families strongly approve.

By condoning the use of technological means to prolong dying, society has brought about many changes in the way Americans view death. In the early part of this century, people customarily died in their own . . .

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