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Book and Media Reviews
October 6, 2010

The Maintenance of Life: Preventing Social Death Through Euthanasia Talk and End-of-Life Care—Lessons From The Netherlands

JAMA. 2010;304(13):1500. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1434

In The Maintenance of Life, Frances Norwood describes her doctoral dissertation research in the Netherlands. To understand this book, the reader must understand the definitions of 2 terms used in the title and throughout the book. Norwood defines social death as “a series of losses—loss of identity and loss of the ability to participate in social activities and relationships that eventually culminates in a perceived disconnection from social life” (p 7). In other words, one dies socially long before one dies physically in that one can no longer have the roles or do the things that gave one meaning. Euthanasia talk is defined as “a discussion for the purpose of planning a person's euthanasia death. It is also, however, a product of discourse, a cultural form that shapes the production, practice, and interpretation of life and end-of-life” (p 30). In other words, the conversations include much more than the how and when of death but also the who, what, and where of life.

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