Last Night Historical Context

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Legalization of Euthanasia in the United States

With the development of medical science in the latter half of the nineteenth century, human experiences of pain and death were gradually disconnected from the spiritual meanings given to them in previous generations. The moment of death, once considered the transition from the corporeal to the spiritual realm of what Marit Such refers to as “an afterworld,” became reconceptualized within the English-speaking world as a moment of loss, a literal and metaphoric stripping away of defining human characteristics. As early as 1887, such physicians as William Munk (Euthanasia, or Medical Treatment in Aid of an Easy Death, 1887) were writing in support of the value in assisted death in the cases of some terminally ill patients.

It was during this period, too, that the first proposals to legalize euthanasia in the United States appeared. Of particular concern to these early advocates...

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