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The Modern Art of Dying

The Modern Art of Dying: A History of Euthanasia in the United States

Shai J. Lavi
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Modern Art of Dying
    Book Description:

    How we die reveals much about how we live. In this provocative book, Shai Lavi traces the history of euthanasia in the United States to show how changing attitudes toward death reflect new and troubling ways of experiencing pain, hope, and freedom.

    Lavi begins with the historical meaning of euthanasia as signifying an "easeful death." Over time, he shows, the term came to mean a death blessed by the grace of God, and later, medical hastening of death. Lavi illustrates these changes with compelling accounts of changes at the deathbed. He takes us from early nineteenth-century deathbeds governed by religion through the medicalization of death with the physician presiding over the deathbed, to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

    Unlike previous books, which have focused on law and technique as explanations for the rise of euthanasia, this book asks why law and technique have come to play such a central role in the way we die. What is at stake in the modern way of dying is not human progress, but rather a fundamental change in the way we experience life in the face of death, Lavi argues. In attempting to gain control over death, he maintains, we may unintentionally have ceded control to policy makers and bio-scientific enterprises.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2677-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Ethics of the Deathbed: Euthanasia from Art to Technique
    (pp. 1-13)

    The year was 1818, and the Howe family had just moved to Brandon, Vermont, when the young mother fell ill.¹ Hannah was thirty years old and suffered from consumption. Lying on her sickbed, and knowing her days were numbered, she turned to her husband with a weighty question: “Do you doubt of my being prepared to die?” The question of how to die well occupied Hannah’s thoughts long before she fell ill. Imagining her deathbed, she had often wished that “she might die shouting, and have an easy passage over the Jordan of death.”

    As her day of departure approached,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Holy Craft of Dying: The Birth of the Modern Art of Dying
    (pp. 14-40)

    How did euthanasia, the medical hastening of death, become a possible way of dying? Euthanasia emerged in a particular historical period, and it is through the reconstruction of this history that we seek its understanding. The challenge is to break from common wisdom, which oscillates in its search for euthanasia’s origins between early antiquity and late modernity. Medical euthanasia is neither as old as the Stoics nor as recent as the mid-twentieth-century respirator. Euthanasia, as we shall see, emerged as a nineteenth-century response to thenewproblem of the hopeless suffering of the dying patient.

    A possible challenge may arise:...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Medical Euthanasia: From Aiding the Dying to Hastening Death
    (pp. 41-74)

    The Birmingham Speculative Club was a small society of professionals and businessmen who met periodically in the British midland city to discuss the problems of the day. A collection of their essays published in 1870 includes a discussion of women’s rights, colonialism and its breakdown, and educational inequality. More than a century later, one cannot help but appreciate the persisting relevance of these problems to our own time while simultaneously noticing that the solutions the writers offered tend to be far less compelling today.¹

    However, one article in this long-forgotten collection is an exception to this rule. It is a...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Legalizing Euthanasia: The Role of Law and the Rule of Technique
    (pp. 75-98)

    The previous chapter traced the emergence of euthanasia, the deliberate hastening of death, as a medical response to a crisis in the treatment of the dying patient. The hopelessness of cure and the meaningless suffering of pain led some physicians and laymen to promote euthanasia as a solution to the problem of dying. Euthanasia’s origins are in the medical context, as a treatment of a medically defined condition. However, it did not remain within the confines of medical discourse and practice for long.

    Soon after Samuel Williams, Lionel Tollemache, and other advocates proposed euthanasia as a medical treatment, the question...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Euthanasia as Public Policy: The Euthanasia Society of America
    (pp. 99-125)

    In the previous chapters, we saw how dying was delivered from the hands of the priest to those of the physician and how euthanasia, as the modern art of dying, changed first from a religious ethic into a medical duty and then, with the early attempts at legalization, into state law. This chapter follows the story of euthanasia into the second half of the twentieth century, as it takes yet another turn.

    Nothing could manifest this next development more than the establishment of the Euthanasia Society of America (ESA) in 1938;¹ and no one could better capture this transformation than...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Lethal Dosing: Technique beyond the Law
    (pp. 126-143)

    In 1936, a bill was introduced before the British House of Lords, the purpose of which was to legalize medical euthanasia under certain conditions and limitations.¹ The bill failed to pass a second reading, though it won the support of more than a fourth of the House members. The Catholic members of the House, whose unwavering position against euthanasia was predictable, strongly objected to the bill. The scales were tilted, however, not by religious objection but by a speech delivered by Lord Dawson, one of England’s eminent physicians.² Lord Dawson presented before the House of Lords medical and social considerations...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Mercy Killing: The Limits of Technique
    (pp. 144-162)

    The history of euthanasia, presented in the previous chapters, began with the decline of thears morienditradition in the early nineteenth century. The passing of the traditional art of dying was accompanied by the rise of medical euthanasia as a new way to die. Shortly thereafter, euthanasia moved beyond the medical sphere into the realm of positive law and social policy. Finally, during the mid-twentieth century, the technical mastery over dying furthered its reign with the emerging practice of lethal dosing. With lethal dosing, euthanasia disappeared as a problem and death became a mere side effect of the medical...

  11. EPILOGUE Art and Technique, Death and Freedom
    (pp. 163-172)

    Our study of euthanasia in America began with colonial times, when the word still signified a pious death blessed by the grace of God. It continued with the medicalization of death in the nineteenth century, which was soon followed by attempts to legalize the hastening of death. The struggle to legalize euthanasia took a radical turn with the founding of the Euthanasia Society of America, when proposals to hasten death were applied to handicapped and mentally retarded patients. The final section of this study compared the legalization of euthanasia with two alternative means of actively hastening death; the sublegal act...

  12. APPENDIX Mercy Killing: Case History
    (pp. 173-180)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 181-210)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-222)
  15. Index
    (pp. 223-226)