Human Exceptionalism

A Right to “Self Preservation”

A Court of Appeals has ruled that terminally ill people have the right to access experimental drug treatments that might save their lives. Ruling that dying patients have a basic “right of self-preservation,” the court held that experimental drugs that have passed the first phase of FDA review — which determines whether a product is safe — should be made available to a dying patient if the drug might save their life.

This is interesting. Supporters of futile care theory claim that dying patients don’t necessarily have the right to non experimental life-sustaining treatment if the bioethicists or doctors determine that their quality of life is not worth living. Much of this is based on money and on an ideologically belief in at least an implied duty to die when a patient reaches a certain level of impairment. Yet the fundamental premise underlying the court’s ruling–a right to self preservation–would seem to point the law in the exact opposite direction.

I believe strongly that the time has come to stomp on futile care theory in legislation and the courts. This case (ignoring for the moment the important issue of whether this is an example of judicial overreach) shows where the benefits of the doubt should lie.