Unnatural Death



In this wide-ranging history of euthanasia and assisted suicide, historian Richard Weikart takes us from the ancient Jews, Greeks, and Romans to the contemporary scene—where the urge to help people kill themselves has intensified, even to the point of pushing the reluctant towards death. How did we reach this place? Unnatural Death answers this question by tracing a complex and fascinating history of ideas, attitudes, and legal wranglings stretching from Socrates to Peter Singer and beyond. Along the way Weikart shows diverse thinkers wrestling with the tension between the unalienable preciousness of human life and the longing to escape suffering and despair. As the author shows, the Judeo-Christian tradition encouraged a culture of life, but the secular Enlightenment and Darwinian materialism have tugged us in a different direction. In the book’s final pages, Weikart considers where these currents are pulling us, and what can be done to reverse course.


In all his writings, Richard Weikart tackles the most controversial issues, and in this book he takes on euthanasia and assisted suicide. The only way to stand effectively against a harmful social trend is to first understand where it came from and how it developed. We must identify the cause to apply an appropriate cure. That’s why Weikart’s careful historical analysis is so needed in our day.

Nancy Pearcey, Professor and Scholar in Residence, Houston Christian University, author of several books, including Total Truth and Love Thy Body

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are gaining respectability with appalling speed, and Richard Weikart’s superb new book, Unnatural Death: Medicine’s Descent from Healing to Killing, is a vitally important reply to the organized disposal of unwanted people. As state-sanctioned killing of the sick and the handicapped and even the merely troubled becomes more and more acceptable in previously civilized nations such as Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States, Weikart shines a light on this methodical obsession with ending the lives of vulnerable people. Weikart wields the most potent weapon we have against the culture of death: he tells the truth about what is happening in dark corners. “Medical Assistance in Dying”—i.e., medicalized killing—is organized legal homicide. Weikart’s book is revealing for readers who are unfamiliar with the history of euthanasia, a guidebook for activists working to protect innocent human life, and hopefully, a legal brief for prosecutors in a future Nuremberg-style trial of the sadists and medical professionals complicit in these crimes against humanity.

Michael Egnor, Professor of Neurosurgery, Renaissance School of Medicine, Stony Brook University

The culture of death wrongly interprets the term compassion to mean “to get rid of” rather than its true meaning, “to suffer with.” In Unnatural Death Dr. Richard Weikart uses his formidable skills of historical analysis to show that when it comes to euthanasia and assisted suicide, the proponents of materialism, secularism, and Darwinism “should not be allowed to twist and co-opt the idea of ‘dying with dignity.’” Reaching back to antiquity and the imperative to “first do no harm” in the Hippocratic Oath (which was ignored by most Greek physicians and the Stoics of Rome), Weikart explains that with the sundowning of the pagan Greco-Roman culture and the ascent of the Judeo-Christian belief in the sacredness of life, euthanasia, suicide, and infanticide were strictly prohibited into Medieval times. He then documents how the rise of an idealized version of Greco-Roman cultural norms during the Renaissance and Enlightenment led to the progressive erosion of the Judeo-Christian ethic of “love your neighbor as yourself” and put us on a slippery slope to a culture of death. Weikart highlights three main factors at play in a society that normalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide: (1) intrinsic human inequality, (2) the duty to die, and (3) a loss of trust in the physician-patient relationship.

As a hospice and palliative care physician for over twenty years, I regularly care for terminally ill patients. Occasionally one of them expresses interest in euthanasia or assisted suicide; and I can say that, as Dr. Weikart expresses it, “sidestepping the hard work of providing care to the suffering” by “offering people an ‘easy way’ to end their lives” is tempting. Care for the suffering and terminally ill is intellectually and emotionally draining, never mind time-consuming. At such moments my lodestar is the knowledge that human life has intrinsic and unalienable value, and that it is the physician’s sacred duty to care for life, not attack it. As Dr. Weikart persuasively argues, herein lies the moral and ethical difference between an authentically compassionate society and its mere caricature.

Happily, Dr. Weikart does not end on a hopeless note of inevitable decline into a culture of death, but instead offers a way off the slippery slope and onto a path to a culture of life. Ideas have consequences. If you want to know how we got here and what we must do to correct the situation, I strongly recommend you read this book.

Howard Glicksman, hospice physician and co-author of Your Designed Body

In Unnatural Death, Professor Richard Weikart offers a readable and comprehensive history of euthanasia and assisted suicide from the time of the ancient Greeks, through the centuries, to the contemporary world in which doctors are legally allowed to administer lethal injections in several countries and can prescribe drug overdoses to terminally ill patients in ten US states. The modern euthanasia movement claims to be based on respect for autonomy and compassion. But Weikart effectively demonstrates that from its genesis in the pernicious eugenics movement, assisted suicide/euthanasia theory and practice are rooted in a deep and disturbing disdain for human equality, presenting a potent threat, not only to the terminally ill not offered suicide prevention if they ask to die, but also to people with disabilities, the elderly, and even the mentally ill as so-called right-to-die laws expand over time. As Weikart puts it so well, true compassion means that “we should never succumb to the temptation to think that some people’s lives are so valueless that we should help them kill themselves.” To do otherwise is to abandon those most in need of our support and love.

Wesley J. Smith, Chairman, Discovery Institute Center on Human Exceptionalism, host of the Humanize podcast (www.humanize.today), and author of the award-winning Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine

Richard Weikart’s new book, Unnatural Death, is a first-rate piece of historical work on the history of euthanasia. The history is mostly a dark one as he traces it from the Greco-Roman period through today. The connection with the modern euthanasia movement and eugenics is particularly helpful. I especially commend his final sections rebutting the pro-euthanasia argument from autonomy and defending the concern that euthanasia is a slippery slope. This book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in this important area of bioethics.

​Scott B. Rae, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

I highly recommend Richard Weikart’s powerful, accessible, and important book on euthanasia and assisted suicide. This volume provides not only the relevant historical background to the whole discussion but also an insightful analysis of euthanasia’s inconsistencies, hypocrisies, tyrannies, and blasphemies. Weikart offers a more consistent pathway—one that robustly affirms a culture of life with its emphasis on human dignity, essential equality, and true autonomy, which are rooted in a Creator who has made each of us in his image.

Paul Copan, Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University (Florida), and co-author of An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom (IVP Academic)

Additional information