Human Exceptionalism

Docotrs Need to Quit This! Now!

This is what I wrote in Culture of Death (page 69, paperback version), which first came out in early 2001:

The attitude that it is better to die than live cognitively disabled has triumphed so completely in our medical culture that some doctors now report a rush to write off newly unconscious patients as disposable, and consign them to death by cutting off life support before they have a chance to recover.

I was accused by some of my critics of alarmism, but in the years since this trend has only gotten worse.

Along these lines, a story published in today’s Casper Star Tribune is illustrative. A young man named Kevin Monk was in a serious accident. From the story:

Monk went into a coma upon impact and had no measurable brain function for 18 days. He spent three months in a coma.

“Some of the doctors told Mom and Dad to just pull the plug,” Monk said.”We heard that for months,” Monk’s mom, Janice Monk, added. “From every place we went, they told us he’d never be anything but a vegetable.”

Hearing this makes Monk mad. “Doctors are there to heal,” he said, “not to give up.”

Indeed. This isn’t to say, of course, that there are not cases where ceasing efforts to save a life isn’t the right decision. But it really does seem to me that my warning was spot on: Once the law and medical ethics countenanced the dehydration of those in PVS and minimally conscious states based on quality of life considerations, we declared some lives not worth living; and that became the reigning ethical paradigm threatening people with long term disabilities and acute injuries alike.

HT: Debi Palmer