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Stealing on insensibly: end of life politics in the United States

  • Lawrence D. Brown (a1)

Because the United States often seems (and seems eager to present itself as) the home of the technological imperative and of determination to brand all challenges to it in end-of-life care as a descent into death panels, the prospects look unpromising for progress in US public policies that would expand the range of choices of medical treatments available to individuals preparing for death. Beneath this obdurate and intermittently hysterical surface, however, the diffusion across US states and communities of living wills, advanced directives, palliative care, hospice services and debates about assisted suicide is gradually strengthening not so much ‘personal autonomy’ as the authority, cultural and formal, of individuals and their loved ones not merely to shape but to lead the inevitably ‘social’ conversations on which decisions about care at the end of life depend. In short, the nation appears to be (in terms taken from John Donne's mediations on death) ‘stealing on insensibly’ – making incremental progress toward the replacement of clinical and other types of dogma with end-of-life options that honor the preferences of the dying.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence to: Professor Lawrence D. Brown, Professor of Health Policy and Management, Department of Health Policy and Management, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, 600 West 168th Street, 4th Floor, New York 10032, New York, USA. Email:
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Health Economics, Policy and Law
  • ISSN: 1744-1331
  • EISSN: 1744-134X
  • URL: /core/journals/health-economics-policy-and-law
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