Throughout various discussions in class about life-extending medications and the debate over the value of life-improving medications vs. life extending medications, I have come to realize that our society often tends to associate a longer life with better health. After all, the graphs we observed at the beginning of the year measured a country’s health by the average life span of its citizens.
Countries that have very low life expectancies (under 70) clearly have significant barriers to proper healthcare and medicine, since with today’s technologies and advanced medications there are known ways to fight disease and issues that lead to early death.
But when considering life expectancy in developed countries with advanced medicine, I think it is important to discuss whether extending someone’s life when they are very sick is always the best option. Currently, it is legal for patients to sign a document that establishes whether they want to continue life-sustaining treatments such as respirators or artificial nutrition when they are no longer able to communicate. However, this becomes a lot more complex in situations where the patient has not signed their decision in writing, as the family must make this decision and there is not always an agreement on what is best for the patient.
There are other cases in which patients are not in a complete vegetative state, and so there is no legal precedent for that patient to request to be let go, but extending a patients’ life might indeed be leading to more pain and suffering than if they were allowed to die. Is it morally wrong for a patient to ask a doctor to hasten their death if it will alleviate physical suffering or psychological degradation?
Since wanting to die or live under certain conditions is a very personal choice, it is difficult to establish laws on this issue. Furthermore, different family members might disagree on what is best for the health of their loved ones, and in these cases, who should have the right to decide whether one should continue to live?
Most will agree that life and health are human rights, but the questions of what quality of life and standard of health vary across individuals and across the globe. When reading about this topic, I came across this website that brings up a lot of fundamental questions on this issue that relate to human rights:
Who decides when pain or suffering is “unbearable” enough to prefer death?
Is alleviating pain to a terminally ill patient through euthanasia considered murder? Or is the opposite, forcing them to live in suffering, considered torture?
Who decides whether a person who is suffering from extreme dementia is content or suffering?
If people do have a right to end their lives, should this only be due to physical pain or can mental suffering such as agony from inability to function properly also a valid enough reason?
Which family members should have more decision power in whether a loved one’s life should be artificially sustained?
These issues are further complicated by the fact that different cultures and religions have completely different views on life, death, medicine, and individual vs. family rights. Although this is primarily a moral question, this issue plays a fundamental role in healthcare costs and technology and medicine development.