Over 20 million people tuned in to watch Dr. Jack Kevorkian help a terminally ill man die on 60 Minutes
during television-sweeps week in November 1998. The right to choose when to die is a deeply divisive issue around the world, and is especially so in the United States, thanks in part to Kevorkian and other activists. In Freedom to Die
, Derek Humphry and Mary Clement describe the history of the right-to-die movement and explain all sides of the debate. Humphry has been an advocate of physician-assisted suicide ever since his wife died slowly and painfully of cancer in the mid-1970s. Humphry founded the Hemlock Society, one of the first advocacy organizations on this issue, and has written several other books on the subject.
The authors describe how technological advances, changes in the doctor-patient relationship, poor end-of-life care, and the civil-rights movement prompted the development of the right-to-die movement. Humphry and Clement are very critical of doctors' determination to keep a patient alive even after the patient's quality of life has become unbearably low:
To rely so heavily on technology and biological functions to define the states of life and death is to deny the very social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life that give it meaning. In their zeal to fashion new and improved technologies, many doctors have promoted measures that are inappropriate and whose applications often have horrendous consequences.
After outlining the history of the movement and the arguments of those on all sides of the issue, Humphry and Clement explain the 1997 Oregon Death with Dignity Act and other recent legislation. Even those who do not agree with the authors that choosing when to die is "the ultimate civil right" will find this book a useful tool in understanding this turbulent debate. --Jill Marquis
From Library Journal
In 1991, Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society, published his best-selling Final Exit (Hemlock Society), fueling the national debate over physician-assisted suicide. Now, he and lawyer Clement provide a history of the right-to-die debate. As reasons for increased public sympathy for assisted suicide, they cite advances in medical technology coupled with increases in costs, the failure to address chronic pain control, AIDS, and the rights culture that first appeared in the 1960s. The authors then trace the issue's history from Karen Ann Quinlan in 1979 through the appearance of Dr. Jack Kevorkian in 1990 to the Oregon initiative from 1994 through 1997. Discussion of the religious, medical, and political opposition also appears, along with coverage of Dutch assisted-suicide laws, the status of state-assisted suicide laws, and a chronology. Though obviously favoring the right to die, the authors present their opinions in a clear, low-key manner. All individuals interested in this question should read this work; highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-AStephen L. Hupp, Swedenborg Memorial Lib., Urbana Univ., OH
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.