Euthanasia in America: A History

1. Introduction:

Since the late 1800s, there has been a steady movement in America towards the public acceptance of euthanasia. The word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek word for “good death.” It is the act of painlessly putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable and painful disease or condition. The term can also refer to the killing of an animal that is in pain and/or suffering from a terminal illness.

There are two main types of euthanasia: active and passive. Active euthanasia is when a doctor or another person deliberately does something to end a patient’s life, such as giving them a lethal injection. Passive euthanasia is when a doctor or other person simply withholds treatment that would keep the patient alive, such as removing life support.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement in favor of legalizing active euthanasia, particularly in cases where the patient is suffering from a terminal illness. This essay will discuss America’s long history with euthanasia, how the euthanasia movement has used communication to their advantage, and the current state of the debate over active euthanasia in America.

2. America’s long history with euthanasia:

The issue of euthanasia has been debated in America for over 100 years. In his book “Euthanasia in America,” historian Jack Kevorkian discusses America’s long history with euthanasia, starting with the early days when it was practiced by individual doctors without any legal regulation or public debate.

In the early days of American history, there were no laws against assisted suicide or active euthanasia. Individual doctors were free to practice it as they saw fit, and there was little public debate on the issue. This changed in the late 1800s when Dr. Alexander Hamilton published an article entitled “Euthanasia” in the New York Times Magazine (Kevorkian, p. 9).

In his article, Hamilton argued that it was sometimes humane and necessary to end the life of a terminally ill patient who was suffering from great pain. He proposed that there should be laws regulating euthanasia so that it could be practiced safely and without abuse. Hamilton’s article sparked a nationwide debate on the issue of euthanasia, and for the first time, people began to seriously consider whether or not it should be legalized.

During this time period, there was also a growing movement in favor of eugenics, which is the science of improving the human race by controlling who can reproduce. Many eugenicists believed that certain groups of people, such as criminals and those with mental illnesses, should be prevented from having children because they would pass on their bad genes to future generations.

Eugenics became popular in America during the early 1900s, and many prominent Americans, including Theodore Roosevelt and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., voiced their support for it (Kevorkian, p. 16). The eugenics movement eventually overlapped with the nascent field of family planning and birth control, which also gained popularity during this time period (Kevorkian, p. 17).

The idea of using birth control to prevent certain groups of people from reproducing was seen as complementary to the goal of eugenics. In 1916, Margaret Sanger founded the Birth Control League (later renamed Planned Parenthood) to promote the use of birth control as a way to prevent “unfit” people from having children (Kevorkian, p. 18).

While the eugenics movement ultimately fell out of favor after World War II, when it was associated with the Nazi regime’s atrocities, the idea of using birth control to prevent certain groups of people from reproducing continued to gain popularity. In the 1960s and 1970s, the concept of family planning became more mainstream, and various birth control methods, such as the Pill and condoms, became more widely available.

The availability of birth control methods was accompanied by a growing public acceptance of the idea that people should be able to control their own fertility. This led to a gradual shift in attitudes towards euthanasia, with more and more people beginning to see it as a positive way to end the suffering of terminally ill patients.

3. How the euthanasia movement used communication to their advantage:

The euthanasia movement has used both rhetoric and euphemism to further their cause. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and euthanasia advocates have used rhetoric to make their case to the public. One common argument made by euthanasia advocates is that it is a “mercy killing” and that it is sometimes necessary to end a terminally ill person’s life in order to prevent them from suffering.

This argument is based on the idea that it is always better to prevent suffering than to allow it to continue. Proponents of this argument often use emotional appeals and stories of individual patients who have suffered greatly before being euthanized.

Opponents of active euthanasia argue that it is a slippery slope that could lead to abuse and involuntary euthanasia. They argue that if active euthanasia were legalized, then it would eventually be used on patients who are not terminally ill but are simply seen as a burden on society, such as elderly people with dementia or disabled people.

Euthanasia advocates have also used euphemism to make their case more palatable to the public. Euphemism is the use of polite or neutral language to discuss something that may be seen as negative or taboo. For example, instead of saying “active euthanasia,” proponents might say “aid in dying” or “death with dignity.”

Euphemism has been used extensively by the pro-euthanasia movement in order to make their case more palatable to the public and to avoid sounding too controversial. By using more neutral language, they are able to avoid some of the negative connotations associated with active euthanasia.

4. Conclusion:

The debate over active euthanasia in America is sure to continue in the years ahead. Proponents of active euthanasia argue that it is a mercy killing that can help reduce suffering for terminally ill patients. Opponents argue that it is a slippery slope that could lead to abuse and involuntary euthanasia.

The issue is complex and deeply divisive, and there is no easy solution. What is clear is that America’s long history with euthanasia will continue to influence the debate in the years ahead.


The origins of the euthanasia movement in America can be traced back to the early 19th century. The first known instance of someone advocating for the right to end their own life was Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In 1808, he wrote an essay entitled "On Suicide" in which he argued that suicide should be considered a legitimate option for those who are suffering from incurable diseases or terminal illnesses.

The issue of euthanasia has evolved significantly over time in America. In the early 20th century, groups such as the Euthanasia Society of America began to form with the goal of legalizing physician-assisted suicide. However, these efforts were largely unsuccessful and public opinion remained opposed to euthanasia throughout most of the century. It wasn't until the late 1990s that public opinion began to shift in favor of legalizing assisted suicide, and this trend has continued in recent years.

There are a number of key arguments for and against euthanasia in America today. Those who support euthanasia argue that it is a compassionate way to allow terminally ill patients to die with dignity, while opponents argue that it is tantamount to murder and could lead to abuse if legalized.

Public opinion on euthanasia is divided in America today, with roughly half of Americans supporting its legalization and half opposed. This split is likely to continue as the issue continues to be debated in legislatures and courts across the country