Although euthanasia is Greek for “good death,” the term’s meaning has varied throughout its history. In Western societies, prior to the nineteenth century, euthanasia was a death blessed by God; such a death could be hoped for but was beyond human control. The rise of medical authority in the late nineteenth century led to a redefinition of euthanasia as a medically induced death in response to incurable pain, illness, and/or disability. Euthanasia advocates began to argue for voluntary euthanasia for those who desired to die, as well as involuntary euthanasia for those who, though not suicidal, were judged to be unworthy of living because of their incurable medical conditions. While this shift enhanced the agency of humans over what had previously been provenance of the divine, the exercise of this agency was shaped by the assumption that life with incurable illness and disability was inherently negative, even unlivable (Lavi 2005).

This essay may be found on page 79 of the printed volume.

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