At Liberty to DieThe Battle for Death with Dignity in America

At Liberty to DieThe Battle for Death with Dignity in America

Howard Ball

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780814791042

Publisher: NYU Press

Abstract

Over the past hundred years, average life expectancy in America has nearly doubled. Yet while longevity is celebrated as an achievement in modern civilization, the longer people live, the more likely they are to succumb to chronic, terminal illnesses. In 1900, the average life expectancy was forty-seven years, with a majority of American deaths attributed to influenza, tuberculosis, pneumonia, or other diseases. In 2000, the average life expectancy was nearly eighty years, and for too many people, these long lifespans included cancer, heart failure, Lou Gehrig's disease, AIDS, or other fatal illnesses, and with them, came debilitating pain and the loss of a once-full and often independent lifestyle. This book poses the pressing question: is it appropriate, legally and ethically, for a competent individual to have the liberty to decide how and when to die when faced with a terminal illness? The book charts how the right of a competent, terminally ill person to die on his or her own terms with the help of a doctor has come deeply embroiled in debates about the relationship between religion, civil liberties, politics, and law in American life. Exploring both the legal rulings and the media frenzies that accompanied the Terry Schiavo case and others like it, the book contends that despite raging battles in all the states where right to die legislation has been proposed, the opposition to the right to die is intractable in its stance.