In the face of death. Societal attitudes and popular opinion on medical aid and dying in Belgium 1936-1950.

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Although Belgium has been a pioneer in dynamics related to the legalisation of euthanasia since the early 2000s, the historical work done on the subject is still very limited. Quite some work has however been done on the legal and ethical aspects and implications of euthanasia laws. Questions about societal dynamics in end-of-life issues’ acceptance and debate in the twentieth century in Belgium are to this day unanswered. It is clear however that before 1970 no advocacy groups on the matter existed. In this paper, I look at the scope, tone and volume of Belgian newspaper coverage on four (intern)national publicised events linked to euthanasia, which occurred prior to the emergence of advocacy groups on the subject. The four cases covered are the 1936 proposal of law by Lord Arthur Ponsonby on euthanasia in Great Britain, the 1949 trial of dr. Herman Sander, the American physician who was charged with the murder of a patient suffering from cancer, the 1950 release of the picture ‘Meurtres’ by Richard Pottier in which famed French actor Fernandel played a man mercy-killing his wife, based on the eponymous book written by Belgian novelist Charles Plisnier in 1943 and the book ‘De rechter en de beul’ by novelist and journalist Janine De Rop on euthanasia and disability in 1970. The cases selected cover both the interwar and the post-war period prior to advocacy initiatives on the subject. With this paper, I will shed light on the portrayal of euthanasia as a subject and the societal attitude that corresponds to it. The highly pillarised nature of 20th century Belgian newspapers makes this source material highly suited to this endeavour.
Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)71-92
Aantal pagina's22
TijdschriftSecular Studies
Nummer van het tijdschrift1
StatusPublished - 2 apr 2022


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