How 'Right' is Our Ability to Keep People Alive?

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by AP_piano295, Jan 14, 2008.

  1. AP_piano295 macrumors 65816

    Mar 9, 2005
    Back Story: I work as an adaptive ski instructor at the local ski resort, this is usually very rewarding work. I can teach people with severe paralysis or one leg how to ski or snowboard better than 90% of people, it's awsome to see a kid who cant walk smoking his friends on the slopes. Another part of this program is basically giving people rides, some of our 'students' are so severely handicaped that they have no hope of ever skiing independantly.

    This weekend I was working with a 12 year old with severe Cerebral palsy, who had roughly zero motor control, no ability to really communicate in anything but the most basic ways. All we do with people like this is ride them down the hill (instructor constantly in control) in a bi-ski it's basically a less controlled roller coaster ride (the student has no influence on what happens and is'nt learning anything). This was the most severe case of anything that I'd ever seen and it really got me wondering about this modern ability to sustain life in these extreme cases.

    Is it 'right' that we can keep people alive through anything even though they have no hope of ever being able to do anything on their own?
  2. mactastic macrumors 68040


    Apr 24, 2003
    I dunno... never say never I suppose. Advances in technology or medicine might provide someone like that with more than is now possible.
  3. Ugg macrumors 68000


    Apr 7, 2003
    I think if it's just a matter of feeding people and providing them with a safe clean and reasonably stimulating environment then we should. However, if massive medical intervention is required and the person has little or no awareness of his surroundings, then it's probably not right.

    This has actually become a major issue in Iraq. A lot more soldiers are surviving serious trauma but many come out of it little more than vegetables.

    Everyone's afraid to flip the switch but few are willing to raise the red flag about what it costs to keep severely disabled people alive.

    The twelve year old in your example probably won't live to see 30. Is it right that massive amounts of money are spent to keep him alive when thousands of other kids in the US don't get even an annual checkup?

    Any serious attempt to reform health care in the US needs to take a close look at what we spend on the severely disabled and the aged.

    My example is my grandmother.

    She was at a friend's funeral, collapsed and was taken to the local hospital. They didn't have the resources to deal with her condition so she was airlifted to the nearest regional hospital with those resources.

    She was 87 years old, had a mild heart condition and told everyone who listened that when her time came, she didn't want anyone keeping her alive if there was no chance of a complete recovery. She had a living will, her doctor knew this, ALL of her children promised to uphold her wishes. In the end, for whatever reason, the hospital chose to take heroic measures when none were needed or wanted.

    20 years ago, the local hospital would have made her comfortable and let her expire naturally.

    In the end, more was spent on her health care in the last 48 hours of her life than was spent in 87 years.

    The two examples aren't directly comparable but they both bring up the same question. Just because we can, should we?
  4. Stampyhead macrumors 68020


    Sep 3, 2004
    London, UK
    This is kind of an important detail here. If you can't communicate with him how do you know he isn't happy with his life the way it is? Just because he can't stand up and ski by himself doesn't mean his life is a total waste. It is arrogant of us to presume we have the right to decide who lives or dies based on what we think the qualities of life should be. If he were lying in a bed in a coma only being kept alive by a machine then it might be a valid question. But this young man is obviously living and breathing without the aid of any machines or devices and therefor has as much right to live as anyone else.

    In this case an argument could be made for her to be allowed to pass away peacefully, especially since she had a living will dictating her desire to do so.
  5. AP_piano295 thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 9, 2005
    Well he does'nt live by himself, he's fed through a feeding tube directly to his stomach. He very well might be happy with his lot in life he was certainly having a good time skiing he was laughing 'ish'.

    But besides rare moments like those I can't imagine him being very content, I should have mentioned that he has normal brain function just no ability to move comunicate, control his body etc.
  6. Bogie macrumors regular

    Apr 4, 2007
    This may be controversial to say so, but I believe a person can be mentally handicapped and yet spiritually (and I believe there is such a thing as a spirit) be perfectly well. They may not be able to grasp their environment with their mind, but as a Christian, I think it's very possible that they are nonetheless in communion with Christ. If there's signs of unreasonable pain, then let them pass naturally, but otherwise, I say treat them with the same respect and dignity you would a person without the handicaps.
  7. Apemanblues macrumors regular


    Jan 30, 2007
    Stephen Hawking has a decent quality of life and manages to do a great deal, even if he can't physically "do things on his own".

    I think that there is the hope of a meaningful life for everybody and everybody should be allowed to live unless they themselves choose not to.
  8. Lyle macrumors 68000


    Jun 11, 2003
    Madison, Alabama
    I recently finished reading the book Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert. I won't try to get too deep into the details, but one of the themes of the book is that we aren't very good at predicting what will make us happy.

    To illustrate this he uses the example of two young ladies who are conjoined twins. Many of us can't imagine that these ladies would be happy with their present situation, and we assume that if there were a way to safely separate them that that's what they would want. I mean, that only makes sense, right? But these twins don't feel that way, and to hear them tell it they're very happy with the arrangement and can't imagine living any other way.

    I understand that the situation described by AP_piano295 is different in that the twelve year-old boy is unable to communicate and therefore unable to tell his caregivers how "happy" he is. But I guess the takeaway for me is that we shouldn't be so quick to judge what's "right" or "wrong" in these sorts of situations.

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