Dispatches on The Right to Die
The Inevitable: Dispatches on The Right to Die was published in March 2021 by St. Martin's Press (US/Canada) and Atlantic Books (UK/Europe). It is a reported, narrative book about end-of-life bioethics.
More states and countries are passing right-to-die laws that allow the sick and suffering to end their lives at pre-planned moments, with the help of physicians. But even where these laws exist, they leave many people behind. The Inevitable moves beyond margins of the law to the people who are meticulously planning their final hours — far from medical offices, legislative chambers, hospital ethics committees, and polite conversation. It also shines a light on the people who help them: loved ones and, sometimes, clandestine groups on the Internet that together form the “euthanasia underground.”
Katie Engelhart, a veteran journalist, focuses on six people representing different aspects of the right to die debate. Two are doctors: a California physician who runs a boutique assisted death clinic and has written more lethal prescriptions than anyone else in the U.S.; an Australian named Philip Nitschke who lost his medical license for teaching people how to end their lives painlessly and peacefully at “DIY Death” workshops. The other four chapters belong to people who said they wanted to die because they were suffering unbearably — of old age, chronic illness, dementia, and mental anguish — and saw suicide as their only option.
Spanning North America, Europe, and Australia, The Inevitable offers a deeply reported and fearless look at a morally tangled subject.
Hear my interview with Terry Gross on NPR Fresh Air.
"A remarkably nuanced, empathetic, and well-crafted work of journalism."
The New Yorker
“[A] searching, compassionate narrative…Evenhandedly and without undue criticism, Engelhart brings forth the counterarguments...but she offers enough convincing evidence about the efficacy and ethical standing of the right-to-die movement that many readers will be persuaded of its value to society.”
"Fascinating... Engelhart is a skilled storyteller... A brilliant book."
The Sunday Times
“Wherever you fall on the debate over the right to determine one’s own time and manner of death, The Inevitable will force you to reexamine your deepest assumptions about euthanasia and what it means to live and die with dignity. This is an urgent and important book by a gifted young writer.”
Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race
“If your much-loved dog is suffering and incurable, you ask a vet to end her life peacefully and painlessly. It is the moral thing to do. But for you and me it is different. In the transition to our peaceful oblivion, we are condemned to endure a purgatorial interlude of more or less protracted dying. There is a legal double standard. Katie Engelhart ably sets out the case for the right to choose when to die. I find it hard to imagine how a decent and rational person could resist it.”
Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene
“Katie Engelhart’s writing is honest, bold, unsparing. I’ve never read anything like this.”
Ali Velshi, host of MSNBC's “Velshi”
“It is a rare person who can listen to someone say that they want to die without rushing to correct them. In this beautiful, compassionate, and clear-eyed account, Katie Engelhart describes the suffering and deliberation that brings people to that point, as well as their search for dignity and relief. This is an extraordinarily moving book that will change forever the way we think about the longing for death.”
Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help
“Katie Engelhart refuses to look away from death, or more accurately, from dying. The people she has met and the stories she tells about the many different reasons that human beings can choose death over continued life are engrossing. Inevitable challenges us to keep looking and asking hard questions, even if we are uncomfortable with the answers. I couldn’t stop reading.”
Anne–Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business
"Powerful and moving, Engelhart recounts these stories with humanity and grace."
“In the wake of decades of morally and politically exhausting debates, readers might be forgiven for the suspicion that there isn’t much more to say about the right to die, but Katie Engelhart’s THE INEVITABLE is utterly unlike the customary treatment. It is a wise, warm, surprising, and deeply humane mosaic — portraits of individual people making their own individual choices about their own individual finitude. And, in the end, this beautiful book is less concerned with a single fateful act than it is with what it might mean to live, and to die, with dignity.”