I was asked by the Weekly Standard to review the latest report of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society. This will be the last released by the Council under the leadership of Kass, and it is outstanding. The report is a strong defense of the equal worth of all people, particularly the aged who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Here are a few paragraphs from my review:
“Taking Care serves as a powerful apologia for the “ethic of equality,” arguing persuasively in favor of the equal worth of each human being regardless of health, ability, or cognitive capacity. This is important since many in bioethics seek to push our medical system into a more utilitarian direction and dehumanize people who have lost mental capacities as “nonpersons,” of less value and moral worth than the rest of us. Such dehumanization could lead easily to euthanasia for the demented. Hence, the council argues that decisions made on behalf of those who cannot decide for themselves be based on what is best for them, not on what might be desired by the caregiver or be perceived as better for society…”
The report “sets forth moral boundaries to guide the decision-making of caregivers, such as “no active killing or assisted killing of another, no matter how painful or diminished a life has become.” Caregivers should not aim “at death as a purpose of action, whether by acts of commission or omission.” At the same time, there should be “no imposing excessively burdensome treatments on others” and “no obligation to do what we cannot do in the role of caregiver, but the obligation to see how much we can do without destroying or deforming everything else in our lives.”
Taking Care is really worth a read–and it is free: Here is the URL.