Books by Peter G. Filene

Released: June 5, 1998

A well-crafted history weaving together the complex legal, moral, political, psychological, and social issues surrounding the right-to-die movement in the US. Filene (author of Him/Her/Self, 1975, and the novel Home and Away, 1992), a professor of history at the University of North Carolina, focuses on the Karen Ann Quinlan case, which he calls an "earthquake" that "reshaped the cultural landscape." He places this pivotal event in historical context, tracing the evolution of the concept of euthanasia from the 19th-century idea of the easy, natural death to that of mercy killing by a physician, and, in the midst of growing concern about medical technology's ability to prolong the dying process, the emergence of a new concept, the right to die. Filene describes the right-to-die movement as a river fed by two dynamic social forces of the 1960s, the therapeutic human-potential movement and the equal-rights movement, and he shows how the notion of medical civil rights has fared in hospitals, courts, and legislatures in the last two decades. He analyzes the shifting attitudes toward assisted suicide and documents the advent of and growing interest in living wills, devices whose shortcomings he is careful to point out. Death, he notes, must be viewed in a cultural context, and he offers two contrasting ones: Bali, where the death of an individual is celebrated by the whole community, and the Netherlands, where a consensus has been reached that the individual has the right to a doctor's help in dying. As a society, Filene says, we are moving toward acceptance of physician-assisted suicide, but death with dignity will remain elusive until health care is available for all and the comfort care of hospices is widespread—and until we understand that our much-valued autonomy depends on relatedness to others. Thoughtful study that brings needed clarity and perspective to a serious and controversial issue. (b&w illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >