In The Arms Of Others

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Overview

When, if ever, is life no longer worth living? When, if ever, is it right to withdraw life-support or hasten death? These questions—which confront physicians, bioethicists, social workers, the children of aging parents, and sooner or later almost everyone—now receive increasingly urgent attention in American society. Peter Filene’s In the Arms of Others is the first book to set this dilemma into broad historical and cultural context. It is, in other words, a history of the “right to die” as viewed in the United States. With the narrative skills he has displayed in his fiction, Mr. Filene takes the reader into the lives and feelings of people who have struggled with the predicament of modern dying. Beginning with the nineteenth-century background and the rise of medical technology, he moves quickly to the landmark case of Karen Ann Quinlan, who became in the 1970s the macabre protagonist of a melodrama that crystallized the nation's consciousness and produced a legal benchmark. Mr. Filene explores the maze of bioethical arguments surrounding this and succeeding cases, and guides readers through complex questions with remarkable lucidity. Ultimately, he argues, we must acknowledge that traditional American self-determination is not sufficient to resolve terrible questions of life and death; what we need is an ethic of relatedness.
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Editorial Reviews

CHOICE
A most valuable contribution to the literature of death and dying.
Timothy E. Quill
Peter Filene's analysis should be read by anyone who wishes a deeper understanding of what is at stake in our current cultural debate about medicineís proper role at the end of life.
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences - Henry R. Glick
Vibrant and piercingly detailed.
David Barnard
A terrifically well-written narrative...Filene has a gift for bringing legal and ethical arguments vividly to life.
Daniel Callahan
A unique and valuable contribution.
Renée C. Fox
Clarifying and helpful...follows the escalating concern about death and dying in American society since the 1960s, and the unfolding concept of the 'right to die.'
Linda Ganzini
Engaging narrative...difficult to put down and has given me new insights into our peculiarly American way.
Journal of the American Medical Association
Peter Filene explains to us our beliefs and expectations, their tension and contradictions, in order to examine the changes in our attitude toward death during the last 30 years. His book would be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in the right-to-die movement. The ethical, legal, and medical issues are clearly presented, blending seamlessly with the cultural history. In the Arms of Others, with its engaging narrative, is difficult to put down and has given me new insights into our peculiarly American way.
New England Journal of Medicine
Filene has a gift for bringing legal and ethical arguments vividly to life.
From The Critics
Vibrant and piercingly detailed.
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Booknews
With the landmark 1976 "right to die" court case of comatose Karen Ann Quinlan at the heart of his analysis, Filene (history, U. of North Carolina-Chapel Hill) illuminates the unique historical, cultural, and bioethical issues bedeviling treatment of the terminally ill and assisted suicide in this country. He considers the Dutch experience, the Hemlock Society, Dr. Kevorkian, and Oregon's 1994 "Death with Dignity" initiative. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Daniel Callahan
A unique and valuable contribution.
The Hastings Center
Kirkus Reviews
A well-crafted history weaving together the complex legal, moral, political, psychological, and social issues surrounding the right-to-die movement in the US. Filene (author of Him/Her/Self, 1975, and the novel Home and Away, 1992), a professor of history at the University of North Carolina, focuses on the Karen Ann Quinlan case, which he calls an "earthquake" that "reshaped the cultural landscape." He places this pivotal event in historical context, tracing the evolution of the concept of euthanasia from the 19th-century idea of the easy, natural death to that of mercy killing by a physician, and, in the midst of growing concern about medical technology's ability to prolong the dying process, the emergence of a new concept, the right to die. Filene describes the right-to-die movement as a river fed by two dynamic social forces of the 1960s, the therapeutic human-potential movement and the equal-rights movement, and he shows how the notion of medical civil rights has fared in hospitals, courts, and legislatures in the last two decades. He analyzes the shifting attitudes toward assisted suicide and documents the advent of and growing interest in living wills, devices whose shortcomings he is careful to point out. Death, he notes, must be viewed in a cultural context, and he offers two contrasting ones: Bali, where the death of an individual is celebrated by the whole community, and the Netherlands, where a consensus has been reached that the individual has the right to a doctor's help in dying. As a society, Filene says, we are moving toward acceptance of physician-assisted suicide, but death with dignity will remain elusive until health care is available for all and thecomfort care of hospices is widespread—and until we understand that our much-valued autonomy depends on relatedness to others. Thoughtful study that brings needed clarity and perspective to a serious and controversial issue. (b&w illustrations, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566632683
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 1/1/1998
  • Pages: 302
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Filene is professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His other books include Home and Away (a novel) and Him/Her/Self, a celebrated history of gender identities.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Starting Out
Prologue: A Good Death 3
1 Death on Trial 11
2 Modern Dying 47
3 The Subjectivity of Dying 74
4 The Politics of Dying 96
5 Dying on One's Own 125
6 A Tapestry of Relatedness 161
7 Suicide with Assistance 184
8 Cultures of Dying 201
Notes 223
Index 275
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