A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America by Ian Dowbiggin

By Ian Dowbiggin

Whereas it can look that debates over euthanasia all started with Jack Kervorkian, the perform of mercy killing extends again to historic Greece and past. In the United States, the talk has raged for good over a century. Now, in A Merciful finish, Ian Dowbiggin bargains the 1st full-scale historic account of 1 of the main arguable reform activities in the United States. Drawing on extraordinary entry to the files of the Euthanasia Society of the United States, interviews with vital figures within the circulate at the present time, and flashpoint circumstances equivalent to the tragic destiny of Karen Ann Quinlan, Dowbiggin tells the dramatic tale of the boys and ladies who struggled through the 20th century to alter the nation's attitude--and its laws--regarding mercy killing. In tracing the background of the euthanasia circulate, he files its intersection with different innovative social factors: women's suffrage, contraception, abortion rights, in addition to its uneasy pre-WWII alliance with eugenics. Such hyperlinks introduced euthanasia activists into fierce clash with Judeo-Christian associations who anxious that "the correct to die" could turn into a "duty to die." certainly, Dowbiggin argues that through becoming a member of a occasionally overzealous quest to maximise human freedom with a wish to "improve" society, the euthanasia circulate has been dogged by way of the phobia that mercy killing can be prolonged to individuals with disabilities, handicapped newborns, subconscious geriatric sufferers, lifelong criminals, or even the negative. Justified or no longer, such fears have stalled the move, as a growing number of americans now favor greater end-of-life care than wholesale alterations in euthanasia legislation. For a person attempting to make a decision no matter if euthanasia deals a humane replacement to lengthy ache or violates the "sanctity of life," A Merciful finish offers interesting and much-needed historic context.

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Interest in euthanasia during the Progressive era relied instead on an elementary philosophic position that emphasized the need to construct new value systems, due to the revolutionary implications for traditional moral conduct of Darwinism, eugenics, positivism, scientific naturalism, and Progressive social improvisation. Robert Ingersoll was one of the very first to defend this viewpoint, but just as certainly he was not the last. Still, in the years leading up to World War I, few predicted that Ingersoll’s and Adler’s ideas would have much impact.

In the early hours of 12 November 1915, at Chicago’s GermanAmerican Hospital, Anna Bollinger gave birth to her fourth child, a seven-pound baby boy. Her pregnancy had been uneventful and her labor fairly brief. However, the attending physician quickly noticed that the baby was blue and badly deformed. After conferring with the father, the doctor awakened Harry J. Haiselden, the hospital’s forty-five-year-old chief of staff. Haiselden diagnosed a litany of physical defects, the most serious being no anal aperture.

Haiselden’s eugenic characterization of euthanasia sensationalized what had happened to the Bollinger baby. “Eugenics? Of course it’s eugenics,” Haiselden explained to a reporter who had asked him about his decision not to operate. 98 Before 1915 the consensus among the leaders of the eugenics movement, including Karl Pearson, Harry H. Laughlin, Paul Popenoe, and Roswell Hill Johnson, was that euthanasia of the unfit was unwise and useless. ”99 Other eugenicists, such as Yale economist Irving Fisher and biologist Charles Davenport, who dismissed euthanasia as a eugenic measure before 1915, defended Haiselden in the wake of the Bollinger incident.

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