From bookstores to ballot boxes, debate over euthanasia moves from quiet corners to center stage.

When Robert Kingsbury came out of medical school, he felt much like Saint George, “ready to attack the dragons of disease.” But in the years that followed, says the St. Louis general surgeon, he learned that “Saint George’s sword in the twentieth century turns into a costly, complex, isolating instrument that takes on a life of its own.”

Kingsbury confesses that new technologies and the fear of death present physicians with two temptations: becoming “technicians who merely run the machines in frantic attempts to prolong life at all costs” or becoming “medical executioners” in the name of compassion. As an evangelical Christian and a founder of the American Hospice Academy, Kingsbury rejects both extremes. But as a practitioner who daily wrestles with the individual situations of patients and their families, he admits the area in-between is becoming increasingly complex.

In many ways, Kingsbury’s personal struggle mirrors national debate as American society increasingly confronts issues of life, death, and medical intervention. This year debate over the end of life turned particularly turbulent, culminating last month with the surprise defeat of a Washington initiative that would have made the state the first jurisdiction in the world to legalize active euthanasia.

Assessing Momentum

The year began with news of the death of Nancy Cruzan, a 32-year-old brain-damaged woman who died after her food and water tubes were removed. Cruzan’s family had fought a lengthy court battle for permission to remove the tubes (CT, Feb. 11, 1991, p. 56). In March, New York physician Timothy ...

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