Wednesday 29 December 2010

Euthanasia: The Patient and the right of 'Advance Directives'

Dr Megan Best suggests that while Christians believe that we are not free to take the life of another person, this does not mean that we must prolong life at all costs. Nor does it mean that the patient has no rights to cease treatment or give directions about their last days of life. Dr Best presented her ideas at the CASE Medical Ethics Conference held at New College on the 27 March 2010. She presented two stimulating papers on the subject of Euthanasia. One of these papers "The Ethical Dilemmas of Euthanasia" has been published in Case Magazine #25 and was recently released. A second talk on 'Advance Directives' is available on the CASE website as a free download. In it she states:
"For Christians, these are questions that do not have straightforward answers. This is because at the end of life there is a balance to be struck. On the one hand, we are not free to hasten death - it is God's to give and take away. Yet on the other hand, there is no imperative in the Bible that says we need (or even should) hold on to life at any expense - treatment should be proportional to the patient's situation. And it's okay to say it's time to go. Inside the poles of euthanasia on the one hand, and doing 'everything possible' on the other, I believe God has generously given choices regarding what treatment we want to receive as our life comes to its end."
Best points out that many decisions are made by medical practitioners, the patient and families as the life of a patient nears its end. There are matters of life and death to be considered and they involve moral choices about prolonging or allowing death to occur faster. These decisions must be made well. When the patient is of sound mind they are free to give directions to medical staff, there must be no coercion in this from family, friends or staff. But what happens when the patient is no longer mentally competent?

Dr Best suggests that 'Advance Directives' can be helpful in determining what a patient would want when it is difficult for them to make decisions when no longer mentally able. An 'Advance Directive' is an explanation of a patient's preferences for treatment should they become unable to communicate their views as death approaches.

In her paper Dr Best outlines the history of how advance directives developed, as well as important features of advance directives and potential problems to be avoided.

If you'd like to know more about this topic you can read her complete paper HERE.

You can also download a longer version of her paper 'The Ethical Dilemmas of Euthanasia' that was published in Case #25 from the CASE website HERE.

Both papers are also available as MP3 files from the CASE website HERE.

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