UK Supreme Court Decision Underscores the Importance of Our Discussion on End-of-Life Decisions


Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is originally from Williamsport, PA and holds a bachelor's degree in English. She enjoys writing about health and social justice issues. When she isn't writing, she can usually be found curled up reading dystopian fiction or hiking and searching for inspiration. If you like her writing, follow her blog, So Well, So Woman.

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5 Responses

  1. Avatar Murali says:

    The thought that this is purely a scientific question about whether there are any effective medical treatments seems wrong. Medical expertise* as such is not the most relevant kind of expertise here. If it is just a matter of withdrawing medical treatment, then if the state is paying for it, physicians should have a greater say in it. The state shouldn’t be obliged to spend money on treatments that it could use more efficiently elsewhere. Euthanasia is different. That involves other questions of value which people in a pluralistic society can reasonably be expected to disagree on. Doctors on this question are as much laypersons as anyone who is not a philosopher who specifically studies these topics. Is life just about brain activity? Is the self just the mind? A “let the doctors decide” mentality underestimates the extent to which such end of life decisions are fundamentally personal and value driven. The doctor seems to be the last person who should have a say in this. The role of the doctor is just to lay out the feasible options and carry them out if a) the state or family is willing to pay him and b) it is not obviously unethical**

    *Note that I am saying this as the child of a renal physician and an emergency physician, the brother of another doctor and a forensic geneticist who is married to a paediatrician.

    **With the caveat that “the money being used to treat this patient could be better used on someone else” is not among the ethical considerations that count towards unethicality even if it is true. By that I mean killing someone else and harvesting their organs, or the family obviously wants to euthanise grandma to collect the life insurance money or something. While it might from a utilitarian standpoint be suboptimal for money to be spent on people nearing the end of their life, even if utilitarianism is true, we don’t want doctors to be utilitarians.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Humans always struggled with mortality but we tended to do a better job at discussing it when it was an ever present part of life. The Victorians were great at talking about death because it was common. At least in the developed world, funerals are rare events for many people in the present compared to other times in the past.Report

  3. Avatar J_A says:

    My mother passed away last year. Hydrocephalus.

    She was being prepped for brain surgery when test revealed that -in her current conditions- the proposed surgery would not have successful. The medical solution was for a more radical surgery, several weeks in Intensive care, and then, if she recovered of that, then to have the surgery she was being prepped for.

    The alternative was for palliative care, and let nature take its course. The decision was mine.

    My mother died peacefully 24 days later.

    I don’t see what good would have come from having the legal system interveneReport

  4. Avatar J_A says:

    In Terry Schiavo’s case, many feel that disagreements within the family delayed the merciful, quick and unpublicized death Mrs. Schiavo deserved, considering her condition.

    “Many” feel Ms Schiavo’s became the political prop of one of our two parties, pandering for what Andrew Sullivan would have called the Christianist vote

    From the linked article:

    Though the courts sided with Michael Schaivo, the state legislature passed a bill, known as Terri’s law, giving Florida Gov. Jeb Bush authority to prevent the removal of the feeding tube. Report

  5. Avatar pillsy says:

    I think this is one of those issues that is a Culture War lightning rod for two reasons.

    One, the obvious one, is that a fundamental, high-stakes conflict of values is in play. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

    The other, slightly more subtle one, is that the unavoidable involvement of impersonal institutions (the state, hospitals, et c.) raises the fear that your life maybe be ended [1] in some horribly tragic situation by people you don’t trust for ends you disagree with. “Terri’s Law”, which @j_a brought up. is an extreme example of that.

    [1] Or, far more personally horrifying to me, extended.Report