The good death: historicising euthanasia in Australia
AuthorMahar, Caitlin Louise
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2023-08-09
© 2016 Dr. Caitlin Louise Mahar
This thesis provides an historical perspective on the contemporary push to legalise euthanasia in Australia. It traces the rise of euthanasia activism from the first proposal to legalise a physician-assisted death in England in the 1870s to the enactment of the world’s first voluntary euthanasia legislation in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1995. In order to apprehend how a death hastened by a physician became a conceivable and even desirable way to die, it argues that the movement must be examined in relation to changing cultural conceptions of the good death, dying and suffering. Drawing on Foucault’s concept of genealogy, this project historicises the thoughts, feelings and customs that gave rise to the euthanasia debate and today make it so compelling. It sees the beginnings and flowering of the movement as entwined with shifting Western understandings of the good death that are themselves inextricably tied to changing deathbed practices – notably the rising prominence of the doctor at the bedside of the dying. The thesis contends that ultimately the increasing popularity of the euthanasia cause needs to be grasped in the context of a dramatic shift in Western conceptions of the pain of dying that can be traced back to the nineteenth century. In taking this approach, the thesis contributes to histories of dying and suffering. Many scholars of the history of dying in twentieth-century Western societies have emphasised the idea that as medicine developed unprecedented means to cure the sick, death came to be seen as a medical failure and the pain and suffering of the dying was neglected. Through a history of euthanasia, this study traces a different shift in cultural attitudes towards terminal illness and pain as well as another, less well-examined aspect of the medicalisation of dying. It argues that the increasingly popular euthanasia movement reflected and reinforced a growing medical as well as cultural concern not to preserve or prolong life, but to eliminate pain and suffering.
Keywordshistory; euthanasia; dying; pain; suffering; palliative care
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