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Choosing how and when to die is the theme of a new digital library at the University of Utah.

The state flagship university has partnered with Oxford University Press to launch an online collection of historical writings and also more recent pieces from authors worldwide.

The collection is "very exciting," said Heidi Brett, Marriott Library spokeswoman. For example, she said, people can look up, "What did Plato think about suicide?" or browse by keywords or time period to investigate the views of more modern or non-Western thinkers.

The collection becomes available as U. philosophy and medical ethics professor Margaret Battin releases a new book, "The Ethics of Suicide," on forms of suicide throughout history — physician-assisted, jihad, suicides of social protest and religious ritual, among others.

"This collection doesn't take sides in these controversies," Battin said in a prepared statement. "Rather, it serves to expand the debate by showing the complicated and multidimensional sides of the issue."

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, wants to allow physicians to prescribe medications that can speed death, creating a path for a more peaceful and dignified last breath. Battin, who helped craft the Utah proposal, has shaped successful legislation in other states. Physician-assisted suicide is authorized in Oregon, Montana, Vermont and Washington.

Battin's work, Chavez-Houck wrote in an email statement, "reminds us that the world is rich with various faith traditions that view dying and taking ones life in so many ways: It's not necessarily black or white."

After an unsuccessful attempt to get the 2014 legislation passed, Chavez-Houck will try again next session.

Her Death with Dignity Act would let patients with terminal or "intractable and unbearable" diseases ask doctors to help them.

Battin has taught and studied end of life at the U. since she first arrived 40 years ago.

The issue became personal when her husband, Brooke Hopkins, a U. literature professor, was paralyzed in a bicycle accident and chose to die about five years later by discontinuing his ventilator.

Both Battin's new book and the database include viewpoints from Western and non-Western cultures and a variety of disciplines such as philosophy, literature, theology, legal theory, medicine and anthropology.

The interactive library archive is not just for scholars, but also for laypeople seeking historical and ethical perspectives. It allows readers to comment on collections, submit corrections and suggest new material to be considered for inclusion.

Twitter: @anniebknox —

Lunch and book signing

P Monday, Oct. 5, noon-2 p.m. in the Gould Auditorium at the Marriott Library. Rick Anderson and Allyson Mower of the Marriott Library, editor Peter Ohlin from Oxford University Press will join professor and author Margaret Battin in a discussion and technical demonstration of the print book and digital archive. View the online collection •