With our framework of ethical theories and principles in hand, we begin our look at some of the critical ethical issues in our contemporary world, starting with end-of-life issues. This assessment covers ethical questions related to end-of-life care. Passive euthanasia is the removal or refusal of life-sustaining treatment. Examples of passive euthanasia include removal of a feeding tube or a ventilator, or forgoing a life-prolonging surgery. Passive euthanasia is legal in all 50 states, and the principle of autonomy gives informed patients the right to refuse any and all treatments. Patients who are unable to make such decisions in the moment (because they are unconscious, for example) might have made their intentions clear beforehand with an advance directive or similar document. Things become more complicated, however, when a patient who is unable to make treatment choices has not made his or her wishes clear, either formally in a written document, or informally in conversations with family members or friends. Another problem concerns cases in which there is disagreement about whether the treatment is sustaining the life of a person in the full sense or merely as a body that, because of severe and irreversible brain trauma, is no longer truly a living person.
Active euthanasia, or assisted suicide, introduces further difficult moral questions. A patient who has a terminal illness and who has refused treatments that would merely prolong a potentially very painful and debilitating death might want the process of dying to be hastened and made less painful. The patient might want to take his or her own life before the disease reaches its horrible final stages. Should patients be legally allowed to have help in this endeavor? If suicide itself is not morally wrong, at least in cases like these, is it wrong for another person to directly help bring about the patient’s death? Is it wrong for doctors, a role we naturally associate with healing and the promotion of life, to use their medical expertise to deliberately end a patient’s life if the patient wants this?
Demonstration of Proficiency
By successfully completing this assessment, you will demonstrate your proficiency in the following course competencies and assessment criteria:
- Competency 1: Articulate ethical issues in health care.
- Articulate the moral issues associated with limiting life support.
- Competency 2: Apply sound ethical thinking related to a health care issue.
- Demonstrate sound ethical thinking and relevant ethical principles when considering limiting life support.
- Explain important considerations that arise when contemplating limiting life support.
- Competency 5: Communicate in a manner that is scholarly, professional, and respectful of the diversity, dignity, and integrity of others and is consistent with health care professionals.
- Exhibit proficiency in clear and effective academic writing skills.
This media piece provides the context for this assessment; make sure you have reviewed the case study thoroughly.
Additionally, it may be useful to think through the following issues as they relate to Mr. Martinez’s case:
- Should Mr. Martinez be transferred to intensive care, where his respiratory failure can be treated by a ventilator, and by CPR if necessary, and his oxygen level can be monitored?
- What are the key ethical issues or models at play in this case study?
- What are the key end-of-life issues at play in this case study?
- How can an understanding of models and best-practice help to guide health care practitioners to make ethical and legal decisions?
In a 2–3 page analysis of the case study, address the following:
- The patient’s directives.
- The patient’s quality of life.
- The family’s stated preferences.
- The moral issues associated with limiting life support.
- The ethical principles most relevant to reaching an ethically sound decision.
- Important considerations such as implications, justifications, and any conflicts of interest that might arise because of the patient’s respiratory failure.
When writing your assessment submission assume that doctors cannot contact Mrs. Martinez and must make this choice on their own. To help you reach an objective, ethically sound decision, draw upon concepts and arguments from the suggested resources or your independent research. Support your response with clear, concise, and correct examples, weaving and citing the readings and media throughout your answer.