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Angels of Death: Exploring the Euthanasia Underground
  1. M Otlowski

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    R S Magnusson, Melbourne University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-522-84970-9

    Angels of Death, which reports on Magnusson’s study of the euthanasia underground within the HIV/AIDS communities principally in Sydney, Melbourne, and San Francisco, is, in many respects, a unique work. It is written by a legal scholar but is quite deliberately non-legalistic; indeed, Magnusson makes clear his intention is not to create another manifesto but to inject new perspectives into the euthanasia debate. The book’s underlying methodology also sets it apart. It is based on the author’s own extensive empirical research, drawing on data gathered over three years in the course of indepth, face to face interviews with healthcare workers in Australia and the USA who have been involved in caring for people with AIDS. This kind of empirical research is not often undertaken by lawyers, and while a number of studies into attitudes and practices of healthcare professionals in relation to euthanasia have been carried out by researchers from other disciplines, very few have involved interview based research, relying instead predominantly on surveys.1 By any measure, Magnusson’s research has been undertaken with meticulous care. He is able to balance his gratitude and respect for his interviewees with the need to provide a dispassionate and evenhanded commentary on their accounts.

    The aim of Magnusson’s study is to investigate the attitudes and practices of Australian and American healthcare workers towards assisted suicide and euthanasia, especially within HIV/AIDS healthcare contexts. While this presents some atypical features from other healthcare contexts where assisted death is an issue (which may, in turn, have implications for the extent to which we can extrapolate from the book’s findings in relation to the “euthanasia underground”), it serves as a useful focal point for this study. The book presents and analyses first person accounts of involvement in …

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