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A Duty to Kill? A Duty to Die? Rethinking the Euthanasia Controversy of 1906

From: Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Volume 78, Number 3, Fall 2004
pp. 610-634 | 10.1353/bhm.2004.0106


This essay seeks to chronicle the controversy surrounding euthanasia that came to a head in the United States around 1906, and to situate that debate in a meaningful historical context. An extensive examination of newspaper coverage of the legislative proposals to legalize the practice in Ohio and Iowa reveals that (1) the discourse occurred in a context in which both supporters and opponents of euthanasia generally agreed that the practice already occurred with frequency; (2) the discussion was heavily influenced by a simultaneous controversy surrounding eugenics; and (3) most of the opponents of legalization relied upon practical rather than religious or moral arguments to further their cause.