Synopses & Reviews
While it may seem that debates over euthanasia began with Jack Kervorkian, the practice of mercy killing extends back to Ancient Greece and beyond. In America, the debate has raged for well over a century.
Now, in A Merciful End, Ian Dowbiggin offers the first full-scale historical account of one of the most controversial reform movements in America. Drawing on unprecedented access to the archives of the Euthanasia Society of America, interviews with important figures in the movement today, and flashpoint cases such as the tragic fate of Karen Ann Quinlan, Dowbiggin tells the dramatic story of the men and women who struggled throughout the twentieth century to change the nation's attitude--and its laws--regarding mercy killing. In tracing the history of the euthanasia movement, he documents its intersection with other progressive social causes: women's suffrage, birth control, abortion rights, as well as its uneasy pre-WWII alliance with eugenics. Such links brought euthanasia activists into fierce conflict with Judeo-Christian institutions who worried that "the right to die" might become a "duty to die." Indeed, Dowbiggin argues that by joining a sometimes overzealous quest to maximize human freedom with a desire to "improve" society, the euthanasia movement has been dogged by the fear that mercy killing could be extended to persons with disabilities, handicapped newborns, unconscious geriatric patients, lifelong criminals, and even the poor. Justified or not, such fears have stalled the movement, as more and more Americans now prefer better end-of-life care than wholesale changes in euthanasia laws.
For anyone trying to decide whether euthanasia offers a humane alternative to prolonged suffering or violates the "sanctity of life," A Merciful End provides fascinating and much-needed historical context.
"A 'must read' book on the history of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.... If you wonder why 'living wills' and health care 'power of attorney' won support at the ballot box but physician-assisted suicide proposals mostly failed, this book explains all."--Baltimore Sun
"Utterly fair and evenhanded. Instead of arguing the issue pro or con, he provides an exhaustively researched and objective history of euthanasia advocacy in the United States.... Dowbiggin's history provides a fascinating study in how little the movement and its tactics have actually changed over the years. Indeed, the book's narrative discloses a remarkably clear and consistent pattern, both in the strategy and substance of euthanasia advocacy, from its inception to today."--First Things
"A Merciful End is a masterful historical account of the transformation of the tiny and elitist American eugenics and euthanasia movements of the first half of the 20th Century into the much more complex 'right to die' mass movement that closed out the century. Dowbiggin's balanced, well-documented, and insightful history is a must read for anyone who wants to understand why living will and health care proxy laws were enacted in all 50 states, while physician-assisted suicide laws succeeded only in Oregon, and active euthanasia laws had no success at all."--George J. Annas, Professor of Health Law, Boston University Schools of Law, Medicine, and Public Health, and author of The Rights of Patients
"A deeply researched, well-written, and admirably well-balanced book on the highly contentious subject of euthanasia in 20th century American life. A skilled historian, he makes clear that the issue has a considerable history in the United States, dating to early in this century. He also places arguments over euthanasia, past and present, in a broad historical social and cultural context, relating these debates to a range of other claims for personal 'rights,' such as birth control and abortion. And he brings these debates into our 21st century--all in an admirably lean and clearly organized compass. This is a book that should engage readers interested in social, intellectual, cultural, legal, and medical history."--James T. Patterson, Professor of History, Brown University, and author of Dread Disease: Cancer and Modern American Culture
"In a fascinating and comprehensive analysis of the American euthanasia movement, Dowbiggin rectifies the historical record, demonstrating that the ideological justification for euthanasia lies not in the advanced medical technologies of the late 20th century, but in the social Darwinism, eugenics, and utilitarianism of the late 19th century."--Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -239) and index.
About the Author
is Professor of History at the University of Prince Edward Island.
Table of Contents
2. Breathrough, 1920-1940
3. Stalemate, 1940-1960
4. Riding a Great Wave, 1960-1975
5. Not That Simple, 1975-1990
6. Conclusion: The 1900's and Beyond