Reviewer: James F. Bresnahan, SJ, JD, LLM, PhD (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine)
Description: This book presents both a description and analysis of the process of legalization of physician assisted suicide, characterized by the authors as "reform" of the law, principally in the United States but with some attention to similar efforts in other nations. They cover the development though the first year of implementation of this legalization in the state of Oregon. The book's chief virtue is the completeness with which the authors present the development of the public discourse both in support of the innovation and in opposition to it. Chapters deal with the authors' interpretations of the medical developments giving rise to the effort, the failed initiatives in Washington and California, the successful initiative and its subsequent reaffirmation in Oregon against the attempt to repeal it, the legal cases which sought to establish a constitutional right and which affirmed the constitutionality of the Oregon law, implementation of the law in Oregon, and developments in other states and nations. The authors end with their view of "changing moral boundaries" as achieving "greater choice and self-determination."
Purpose: The authors, professors in law and criminology at Southern Illinois University and University of California Irvine, aim to describe by inclusive presentations the views both of proponents and opponents of physician assisted suicide. They succeed. They aim then to analyze the strategies of each side which succeeded or failed, and to present reasons why, using sociological and political theory. These are limited but worthy objectives, and the authors do provide an exhaustive account of the ways in which the struggles for what they consistently characterize as reform unfolded in Washington and California unsuccessfully, but then successfully in Oregon, as well as how Oregon shaped the regulations under which the successful initiative was implemented and what happened in the first year of implementation. They comment briefly on developments in other countries and subsequently in Michigan and Maine. They do not try to explore the motivating considerations on each side at the level of philosophical and religious ethical concerns and commitments grounding the public discourse in this struggle for and against change in the law.
Audience: This book appears to be written not only for professionals in law and healthcare (for them a multitude of references are provided), but also as a resource for a general audience having more than passing interest in what has happened in the states where ballot initiatives to achieve legalization of physician assisted suicide have been undertaken. The book will be of particular interest and of real use to anyone planning in the future to launch such initiatives or seeking to oppose them. The discourse of the book reflects the authors' specialization in law and criminology. The authors present fairly and completely both sides of the argument about legalizing physician assisted suicide as these arguments were formulated in public discourse. This could provide a point of departure for further ethical analysis of the deeper moral convictions moving the parties on each side of the issue to struggle for and against change in the law.
Features: This is a novel contribution to discussion of physician assisted suicide in the completeness of its presentation of the history of the public arguments as they developed. At the end of the book, there are 13 pages of sources referred to in the text, which include: interviews, books and journal articles, campaign records, television ads, newspaper and radio resources (these from the three states), other newspaper articles about assisted suicide, court cases, court briefs, testimony and oral presentations, newsletters, reports, web sites, etc. There is an index of 10 pages, which includes both topics and names.
Assessment: The book is not a legal brief for reform of the law by legalization of physician assisted suicide, but the tone of the discourse suggests that the authors favor such legalization as "reform." The book is most valuable as a historical resource presenting exhaustively what was in fact argued publicly for and against the change in the law, and also what was done to shape the regulations under which Oregon has implemented the change. The authors' analysis of why various arguments for and against change succeeded or failed is also useful, but will be more controversial. This is not a book of ethical analysis but can be a useful point of departure for such reflective probing into the deeper convictions and motives of the parties to the public argument.