Terri Schiavo's Right to Die: An Overview of the Euthanasia Movement in Twentieth Century America




Pyle, Caryn

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The field of medical ethics has seen a tumultuous development in the 20th century. The Nuremberg Trials of the late 1940s contributed greatly to the standard of medical ethics by addressing the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II, particularly in regards to euthanasia and medical experimentation. From modern day to the Nazi era, the ethics regarding euthanasia have been contested and standards have been set that show that the issue has seen great growth from World War II to today. After setting an ethical standard through the Nuremberg Code, the issue of the legalization of euthanasia in the United States entered the public discourse throughout the remainder of the 20th century. Through powerful leaders and various national and global events, support for the euthanasia movement grew, reaching the point of legalization in favor of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon in the late 1990s. An important case for the euthanasia movement is that of Terri Schiavo, a young woman who fell into a vegetative state that led to a national legal battle in the early 2000s over her right to die. Through her husband’s efforts, Schiavo was granted the withdrawal of a feeding tube, a form of passive euthanasia. The outcome of Schiavo’s case demonstrated how much progress the euthanasia movement had made in the United States since World War II and how the ethical perspective of most Americans grew to encompass the right to die.