The Concept and Origin of the Assisted Suicide Movement

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One of the most contentious issues in the entire field of healthcare and end-of-life care is the notion of assisted suicide, wherein the individual who wishes to end his or her own life is assisted by someone else, usually a physician. As Werner (2005, p. 135) notes, "straightforward answers to the difficult questions concerning the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide are not yet available," but one can at least have a more robust conception of the issue's history, which in turn allows one to confront the contemporary discussion with greater insight. In the United States the topic rose to widespread prominence in the 1990s with the case of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who helped over forty people commit suicide before being convicted of second-degree murder. However, the debate regarding assisted suicide has been raging since at least the beginning of the twentieth-century, when the odd confluence of concerned citizens and eugenics advocates began arguing for legalized assisted suicide. This origin has tended to taint the discussion regarding the practice, and by tracing the history of assisted suicide in the United States, it will be possible to understand how the contemporary discussions of the issue represent a kind of backlash against the admittedly cruel and inhumane Social Darwinism of the early twentieth century. Before investigating the origins of the assisted suicide movement in the early twentieth century, it will be useful to briefly define a couple important
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