Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Ethics of Death and Dying

This last Thursday, Elisa A. Hurley, Ph. D and candidate for specializing in philosophy at UMD, gave a speech titled “The Ethics of Death and Dying" in the Humanities Building.

Hurley is a professor visiting from Georgetown. She began the speech by asking those who attended,

“What is a good death? What are its features, and what is the role or obligation of the caregiver in defining or providing good death, if any?"

Hurly discussed the case of Terri Shiavo, and pointed out both sides of her family’s battle. She told the audience that there are four different kinds of euthanasia: voluntary passive, non-voluntary passive, voluntary active and non voluntary active. Active means taking steps to bring on the death of a patient, and passive is withdrawing treatment and allowing the patient to die. Voluntary is when the person is competent and requests the assistance to die.

Non-voluntary is where the person is incompetent and must rely on a living will or their written word. In Shiavo’s situation, non-voluntary passive euthanasia was allowed.

There was also mention of the Death with Dignity Act that was passed in O.R. in 1997. This permits physicians to write prescriptions for a lethal dosage of medication to people with a terminal illness, which is also known as physician-assisted suicide. The U.S Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution does not protect the right to hasten death or terminate life. However, individual states can decide on whether physician assisted suicide is legal or not.

Towards the end of Hurley’s speech there was room for discussion, where three different cases of terminally ill people were read. The discussion was on if it is all right for a doctor to follow their wishes and assist in taking their lives. There were mixed feelings, as this is a controversial subject, but it seemed as if most of the audience was not against voluntary active suicide.

Currently, competent patients have the right to forgo medical treatment at anytime, including treatment that would sustain life, such as feeding tubes and hydration. Will it only be a matter of time before other forms of euthanasia are legalized?

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