This book is one of a kind, a gem of the rarest kind.
Sheldon Ekland-Olson takes on the toughest moral issues in our culture over the past 100+ years, issues that engender deeply impassioned debate and controversy; issues that generate tremendous amounts of noise from people on all sides claiming the moral high ground. The author does not argue with the partisans; he just asks questions, and more questions. The questions force the reader to consider and reconsider previously strongly-held beliefs, which is not the most comfortable thing we can do. He tells stories, personal stories of people caught in the oftentimes cruel vise of an excruciatingly difficult moral dilemma affecting them very directly, or affecting a spouse, a parent, an infant child. And in the telling of the stories, the wind is taken out of many a sail of dogmatic advocates who think the issues are so clearly delineated in black and white.
After I began reading the book, I realized that the issues covered – eugenics, abortion, neonatal care, care for people in “vegetative” states, assisted suicide, capital punishment – show up in the news every day. Ekland-Olson even ties in the horrors of lynching and the societal attitudes that tolerated something that we now consider so repulsive. If you care about the moral fiber of our culture, this is an absolute must-read.
While the book is written by a preeminent scholar and encompasses astonishing depth and breadth of subject matters, it is devoid of academic jargon and wonderfully readable. Be forewarned, that does not mean it is an “easy” read. The issues covered ensure that your conscience and thinking will continually be in a state of discomfort. The author has won numerous teaching awards at the University of Texas – Austin; this book gives us a clear idea of why his students love his courses.
Sheldon Ekland-Olson's tour-de-force book, "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides?" is one of the most interesting and thought provoking books I have ever read. Ekland-Olson puts into historical perspective our ever changing moral values and paints a picture not in black and white but in subtle, shifting shades of gray. Eugenics which was acceptable in the early 20th century is considered completely reprehensible today. The ultimate point, to me, is that it is dangerous to declare ourselves morally superior based on today's acceptable practices. Our road to the 21st century has been a shameful journey on many levels.
We are continually faced with moral dilemmas. I was especially touched with the section on neonatal care when decisions must be made in an emotional state that few of us can even imagine. The complexity of what to do "now" knowing that these decisions will change the lives of all involved -- the child, the parents, and the community -- are among the most difficult in humankind. As hard as we try to define life and enact principals to guide us, when the life of a desperately ill infant is in our hands the situation defies our ability to make sense of those principals. Neonatal care demonstrates the real fact of life that we must all work on our own, there is no safety net.
"Who Live, Who Dies, Who Decides?" is meticulously researched, not for just a few years, but in a lifetime of academic pursuit. Ekland-Olson has written a very readable, understandable, and inspiring book for a general audience. The format of the book is important because it allows the reader to consider a personal value system in the context of our shared need to define order in society. There is no over reaching need in the book to change anyone's mind. Rather, the book challenges us to define our own set of beliefs and to change our mind whenever necessary.
This is a book that I am positive I will reread and find concepts that I missed the first time.
Sheldon Ekland-Olson in "Who Lives, Who Dies, and Who Decides" deals with the complex issues of life and death decisions such as abortion, assisted dying, the death penalty, and others. His dynamic approach operates on two simple moral imperatives: life is sacred and should be detected, and suffering, once detected, should be alleviated. Though these imperatives are universal throughout time, space, and cultures, they often conflict.
Who should decide the fate of a family member who is in a non-recoverable, persistent vegetative state? Who should receive treatment for a new, life-saving technology when demand exceeds the finite supply of resources? What happens when some members of society are deemed less worthy than others? Through the logic of exclusion and dilution of empathy, Ekland-Olson traces how court cases, legislatures, and popular opinions help to shape the boundaries of when life should be protected or whether suffering should be alleviated. Moreover, an underlying theme behind these sometimes seemingly unrelated issues is how developments of technology move faster than the ability for our moral frameworks to evolve. Most impressively, Ekland-Olson does not insert his own beliefs, but methodically lays out a variety of perspectives on difficult dilemmas and allows the reader to decide their own position.
Anyone who is interested in ethical, emotionally-charged issues would be well-served by reading Ekland-Olson's meticulous, interdisciplinary approach.
Yet again Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson has magically written about life and death decisions in a non-professorial way so that the reader can get a perspective of issues that are faced every day. A wonderful read.