Length: 1071 words (3.1 double-spaced pages)
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#3) Whether it is ethical to keep a person alive if their quality of life is not good and will not improve. In such a case, what is the responsibility of the medical profession?
The following argument will be made toward the negative, suggesting that it is intrinsically unethical to keep a person alive under certain circumstances The first issue to address is the sub-components of the Quaestione in order to better set the argument in motion as a proof. The Quaestione can be divided up into the following components [whether it is ethical to keep a person alive] , [if their quality of life is not good] , [and will not improve]. , [In such a case, what is the responsibility] , [of the medical profession].
The first component is, in a general sense, unarguable. Standing alone, the statement of keeping someone alive bears a right to which every human is morally obliged to uphold. They key here is standing alone....Of course society’s code of conduct says that we must preserve life, but this can only be true to a sense until the next issue is incorporated - what if their life is not good?
What exactly is not good? If we take it from an Aristotelean point of view, we can see that Aristotle claimed that happiness or good living - being happy, healthy, prosperous, and flourishing - is the goal of human life and the basis of all ethical behavior. This eudaimonia that he begins to describe is an end, in a sense that that goal has been reached. If one can no longer reach this ultimate goal or end or is rendered unable to physically or mentally move oneself in that direction (after all, someone else can’t live your life for you to move you to happiness) their life is considered not good. A life rendered not good combined with our ethical obligation to keep someone alive, probably still not enough to grant the individual the ultimate end.
Now if you listen closely, this is where the turning point begins. Being a teleologist, Aristotle claims that every action is good only in so far that they achieve some good end. If life is not good, and we reach stage three where it will not improve, where is the action of keeping the individual alive reaching a good end. The life is not good, nor will it ever be good - so what is the good end that would result that would warrant this action to be a good action.
If we would allow this person to die, the ultimate end would be the end of suffering not only for the individual but also for the end to the prolonged suffering to the loved ones around this person. The action of allowing to die has an end that carries more good that outweighs the bad of keeping alive. Along with this comes the advancement of other’s lives brought on by the end of this bad condition (this will be discussed later). Not only are you ending these other evil feelings but one is also ending the not good situation revolving around the inability for this person to reach an eudaemonic end. If the decision is made to keep this person alive, the “not good” is prolonged with no apparent out weighing if good in the end.
Since this all came together in such a manner that the action of keeping someone alive in an non-improving, not good state holds more bad than good, then what are we to do and who is responsible for those decisions. This is where the medical profession comes into play. The responsibility of the medical profession is to inform the individuals involved of the condition in which the person in question is in. They are the only ones who are trusted to the point where they can give a description as to whether the person in question is in a state of being in which they are considered not good and not improving. This brings up the issue of how many levels of not good should be addressed in this manner. If a person is in such a primitive state that basic, involuntary, vital functions are the only thing keeping this person from perishing, that is considered not good on the grounds that this person can no longer make their life good, healthy, flourishing, etc. any more. All of the ultimate goals that Aristotle says are the ultimate goals of life.
Now what about the improving of another’s life, as mentioned before? I was in the rare position of watching my aunt and uncle engage in that informative process and making that decision to remove their son from life support. He was nine years old, involved in a farm accident, and was held without oxygen for 20 min. until the ambulance could get him on a respirator. He was in a vegetative state where only the cortex of his brain was functioning. He lost all primary brain waves with the exception of his primitive, involuntary waves. He could only breath and beat his heart on his own, his eyes would dilate when you shined a flashlight on them but those conditions would not improve the medical profession informed. This is when the lives of others came into play. The suffering of both the parents and the patient could continue for a very long time if they did not do something. If they removed the respirator, his other muscle functions would be too weak to let his chest rise and fall, even though he could breath on his own. His heart was working over-time and was in danger of exhaustion. His body temperature was erratic and controlled only by heat blankets. He would not survive on his own but his organs could.
His heart, pancreas, liver, and kidneys were able to be used to improve or save the lives of five other people. These people do have a chance at reaching a good life. This is the amount of good that overrides the bad. A Utilitarian point of view would suggest this is what makes an action morally sound.
Ultimately, the decision must depend on the situation, but if one is to decide that the person can’t reach a good life, then the keeping of the life carries a negative end, something that gains good for no one. The ultimate balance of more good than evil bounds the other way.