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Making sense of euthanasia : a Foucauldian discourse analysis of death and dying : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
A hugely contentious issue in society today is whether individuals have the right to choose when and how to die. This project examines how people make sense of euthanasia through both a genealogical perspective and an analysis of discourse. The first study presents a genealogy, a Foucauldian ‘history of the present’ that addresses the issue of how euthanasia has emerged as a possible solution to the problem of terminal illness. It investigates the conditions present at particular periods of time and a specific but disorderly collection of incidents that have enabled our present constructions of euthanasia. This genealogy challenges both the origins and functions of our present day ‘knowledge’ regarding euthanasia and the assumptions of self-evidence and inevitability that accompany prevailing discourses.
The second study involved interviews with 28 healthy people from the general population in Aotearoa/New Zealand to explore how they talked about and made sense of death, dying and euthanasia. A Foucauldian discourse analysis of the data revealed meanings of euthanasia that drew on three categories of construction: identity, reciprocation, and burden and duty. The discourses that enable these particular meanings of euthanasia to prevail in our society today and be accepted as ‘common sense’ provide the potential to act in certain ways, while marginalising alternative practices. The way in which people are positioned within these discourses will inevitably shape their understanding of themselves and the world and are pivotal to decisions regarding euthanasia. The power implications of these discursive constructions for vulnerable groups in society are considered in light of the euthanasia debate.