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The Modern Art of Dying:
A History of Euthanasia in the United States
Shai J. Lavi

Winner of the 2006 Distinguished Book Award, Sociology of Law Section of the American Sociological Association

Paperback | 2007 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691133904
240 pp. | 6 x 9 | 2 tables.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400826773 |
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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.


"However we seek to achieve it, in the end what we most hope for is a good death. For his help in pushing us to think about what this means, Professor Lavi deserves our undying gratitude."--Joanna Reiver, Journal of Legal Medicine

"Lavi helped explain what the inhabitants of Christendom understood implicitly for centuries. He is right: We have forgotten how to die."--Michael A. Flannery, The Journal of American History

"[V]ery well-researched and elegantly written. . . . [T]hought-provoking and worthwhile reading."--Marcia L. Meldrum, Journal of the American Medical Association

"Lavi explains how dying has moves from 'art' to 'technique,' from an experience overseen by a minister and family to one of 'technique' overseen by doctors and constructed by law.... Lavi's work represents the best of sociolegal scholarship: it is impressive for its clear conceptualization, its marshalling of an impressive array of historical and cultural evidence, and its lucid, clear, and elegant writing.... As a model of concerned and rigorous scholarship, Lavi's book is exemplary."--Alfonso Morales, Law & Society Review

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: The Ethics of the Deathbed: Euthanasia from Art to Technique 1
Chapter One: The Holy Craft of Dying: The Birth of the Modern Art of Dying 14
Chapter Two: Medical Euthanasia: From Aiding the Dying to Hastening Death 41
Chapter Three: Legalizing Euthanasia: The Role of Law and the Rule of Technique 75
Chapter Four: Euthanasia as Public Policy: The Euthanasia Society of America 99
Chapter Five: Lethal Dosing: Technique beyond the Law 126
Chapter Six: Mercy Killing: The Limits of Technique 144
Epilogue: Art and Technique, Death and Freedom 163
Appendix: Mercy Killing: Case History 173
Notes 181
Bibliography 211
Index 223

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