The Problem with Death: Towards a Genealogy of Euthanasia

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Massey University
A hugely contentious issue in society today is whether individuals have the right to choose when and how to die. The ethics, legality and morality of euthanasia have been hotly debated in many countries around the world. However, the phenomenon of euthanasia has not just emerged recently, on the contrary a wide ranging and diverse network of events have all played some part in our present day understanding. This paper presents a genealogical analysis, an overview of a Foucauldian ‘history of the present’, that addresses the issue of how euthanasia has emerged as a possible solution to terminal illness. It examines the conditions present at particular periods of time and a specific, but disorderly collection of incidents that have allowed our present constructions of euthanasia to come about. This focus recognizes the intrinsic relationship between discourse, knowledge and power as the construction of particular discourses of euthanasia that may prevail in our society today, and are accepted as ‘common sense,’ provide the potential to act in certain ways, while marginalizing alternative practices. 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.
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Euthanasia, Foucault, Bio-power, Autonomy, Neo-liberalism