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The objective of this paper is to understand from a sociological perspective how the moral question of euthanasia, framed as the "right to die", emerges and is dealt with in society. It takes France and Germany as case studies, two countries in which euthanasia is prohibited and which have similar legislation on the issue. I presuppose that, and explore how, each society has its own specificities in terms of practical, social and political norms that affect the ways in which they deal with these issues. The paper thus seeks to understand how requests for the "right to die" emerge in each society, through both the debate (analysis of daily newspapers, medical and philosophical literature, legal texts) and the practices (ethnographic work in three French and two German hospitals) that elucidate the phenomenon. It does so, however, without attempting to solve the moral question of euthanasia. In spite of the differences observed between these two countries, the central issue at stake in their respective debates is the question of the individual's autonomy to choose the conditions in which he or she wishes to die; these conditions depend, amongst others, on the doctor-patient relationship, the organisation of end-of-life care in hospital settings, and more generally, on the way autonomy is defined and handled in the public debate.

Original publication




Journal article


Med Health Care Philos

Publication Date





197 - 209


Attitude of Health Personnel, Cross-Cultural Comparison, Euthanasia, Active, Euthanasia, Passive, France, Germany, Humans, Palliative Care, Personal Autonomy, Right to Die, Terminal Care