In 2015, I launched a multi-year ethnographic research project on medical aid-in-dying in the United States. This project asks how legislation that sanctions medically assisted deaths in several U.S. states is transforming the ways North Americans view and manage the process of dying. Through in-depth ethnographic work with patients, caregivers, physicians, pharmacists, legislators, activists, and religious figures, the research interrogates and documents the emergent frontiers created by assisted dying laws. In scrutinizing contemporary ideas about human dignity, rationality, and self-determination, my work aims to enrich scholarly and public conversations on end-of-life care, the body, and the state.
Several questions motivate this research: What conceptions of autonomy, agency, and personhood underwrite terminally ill patients’ desire to end their life on their own terms? How does the prospect of knowing and controlling one’s death transform experiences of suffering, intimacy, and mortality? How do the purpose and public perception of medicine change when physicians are no longer merely seen as “fixers” but are asked to help people to die? What happens when bodily suffering becomes divorced from the idea of redemption and comes to be seen as needless? And what is the relationship between assisted dying and other forms of state-sanctioned death?