Cover image for Endings and beginnings : law, medicine, and society in assisted life and death
Endings and beginnings : law, medicine, and society in assisted life and death
Palmer, Larry I., 1944-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Praeger, [2000]

Physical Description:
xviii, 143 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF3827.E87 P35 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



As society struggles to cope with the many repercussions of assisted life and death, the evening news is filled with stories of legal battles over frozen embryos and the possible prosecution of doctors for their patients' suicide. Using an institutional approach as an alternative to the prevailing rights based analysis of problems in law and medicine, this study explains why society should resist the tendency to look to science and law for a resolution of intimate matters, such as how our children are born and how we die. Palmer's institutional approach demonstrates that legislative analysis is often more important than judicial analysis when it comes to issues raised by new reproductive technologies and physician-assisted suicide. A reliance on individual rights alone for answers to the complex ethical questions that result from society's faith in scientific progress and science's close alliance with medicine will be insufficient and ill-advised.

Palmer predicts that the key role of the family as a societal institution will mean that questions of assisted reproduction will be resolved more in response to market forces than through legal intervention. However, he does support a strong role for legislatures in decisions involving the physicians' role in our deaths. These findings are based on the differing views of the Supreme Court justices in these matters: a tendency to protect family formation from state interference (as in abortion decisions), but support of a legislative obligation to control medicine (assisted suicide). According to Palmer, recent Supreme Court decisions on physician assisted suicide usher in a new era in how legal institutions will resolve biomedical dilemmas.

Author Notes

Larry I. Palmer is Professor of Law at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, New York, where he has taught courses on law and medicine for many years.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Palmer (Cornell Law School) analyzes perspectives related to physician-assisted suicide, providing a critique of cases involving Kevorkian and Thomas Quill, analysis of the outcomes of court actions, and examination of the Oregon statute supporting physician-assisted suicide. He demonstrates the complexity surrounding the issue, the medical and legal conflicts inherent in such a debate, the concern over a system that considers "costly patients," and the importance of maintaining community and family involvement in end-of-life decisions. Contents include topics such as the role of law in people's intimate lives; science in the service of medicine and law; assisted reproduction and legal aspects; constitutional right to die; terminal versus chronic illness; and the physician's role in dying and as relievers of pain. As is typical with a book about such a controversial issue, it raises as many questions as it answers. However, the analysis of the court decisions, the interpretation of the dilemma from the perspective of differing stakeholders, and the perspective of the differences in legislative versus judicial solutions are enlightening. Graduate students; professionals. N. I. Whitman; Lynchburg College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Part I The Role of Law in Our Intimate Lives
Chapter 1 Science in the Service of Medicine and Lawp. 3
Chapter 2 Assisted Reproduction: Do We Need Legislative Definitions of the Family?p. 19
Chapter 3 Creating One's Own Death: Is There a Constitutional Right to Die?p. 39
Chapter 4 Chronically Ill or Terminal? A Question for Legislaturesp. 55
Part II The Role of Physicians in Generational Continuity
Chapter 5 The Role of Physicians in Our Dying: Relievers of "Suffering"?p. 71
Chapter 6 Physicians' Constitutional Rights: Relievers of "Pain"?p. 93
Chapter 7 Physicians' Legislative Privileges to Assist Life or Deathp. 107
Chapter 8 Professionalism, Autonomy, and Medical Progressp. 123
Selected Bibliographyp. 133
Indexp. 139