Rather than articulating and defending a particular normative stance concerning assisted suicide and euthanasia, attention here is directed toward the background, often tacit, interpretive horizons within which such judgements are formulated. Historical transformations can alter the contours of moral reflection, so that what is construed as 'reasonable' and 'common sensical' can shift over time. When core presuppositions constituting the public moral imagination undergo considerable change, what was once placed beyond dispute can become a site for open disagreement or widespread public affirmation. Four distinctive historical themes related to the contemporary debate concerning assisted suicide and euthanasia are addressed. First, the medicalization of dying and death is explored. Second, the paper addresses the way in which the bureaucratization of dying places decision-making near the end of life within the realm of public moral deliberation. Third, tensions between competing sources of moral authority are explored. Finally, conflicting understandings of human suffering are described.
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