Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD
Debates about the ethics of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide date from ancient Greece and Rome. After the development of ether, physicians began advocating the use of anesthetics to relieve the pains of death. In 1870, Samuel Williams first proposed using anesthetics and morphine to intentionally end a patient's life. Over the next 35 years, debates about the ethics of euthanasia raged in the United States and Britain, culminating in 1906 in an Ohio bill to legalize euthanasia, a bill that was ultimately defeated.
The arguments propounded for and against euthanasia in the 19th century are identical to contemporary arguments.Such similarities suggest four conclusions: Public interest in euthanasia 1) is not linked with advances in biomedical technology; 2) it flourishes in times of economic recession, in which individualism and social Darwinism are invoked to justify public policy; 3) it arises when physician authority over medical decision making is challenged; and 4) it occurs when terminating life-sustaining medical interventions become standard medical practice and interest develops in extending such practices to include euthanasia.
Emanuel EJ. The History of Euthanasia Debates in the United States and Britain. Ann Intern Med. ;121:793–802. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-121-10-199411150-00010
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 1994;121(10):793-802.
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