Published: Nov. 5, 2019

2:30 – 4:00 pm
North Classroom, Room 1207

Mara Buchbinder, ‘Making Death’ in the Era of Medical Aid-in-Dying

Recent social scientific studies of life and death have used the framework of biopolitics to explore the role of the state and its associated regimes of knowledge, expertise, and power in governing human life processes. For many contemporary scholars of biopolitics, the philosopher Michel Foucault’s conceptualization of biopower as the power to ‘make live and let die’ has served as a key point of departure. Medical aid-in-dying, which permits terminally ill persons to hasten death with the assistance of a physician under certain regulatory conditions, presents a challenge to Foucauldian biopolitics because of the way it foregrounds human agency in making death. In this paper, Buchbinder draws on ethnographic materials collected for the Vermont Study on Aid-in-Dying (Vermont SAID), which documented the implementation of Vermont’s 2013 Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act to explore how understandings of death are transformed through the legalization of assisted death. Buchbinder’s particular interest is in how aid-in-dying renders death an event: an anticipated occasion that may be painstakingly planned, staged, and produced. This possibility transforms death from an inchoate experience that a terminally ill person awaits passively, to a carefully crafted event that is actively managed, shaped, and controlled.