In Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Values, Peter Singer examines ethical dilemmas that confront us in the twentieth century by identifying inconsistencies between the theory and practice of ethics in medicine. With advancements in medical technology, we focus on the quality of patients’ lives. Singer believes that in this process, we have acknowledged a new set of values that conflicts with the doctrine of the sanctity of life.
Although the cases he presents
Singer offers a lens through which we can examine non-treatment in terminal illnesses.
Terminal illness is a disease that cannot be cured or adequately treated. Patients with terminal illnesses are reasonably expected to pass away within a short period of time. In these cases, all fully curative options are exhausted, but oftentimes, patients have opportunity to undergo treatment with the hope of extending their lives.
Modern technology and medical revolutions allow us to combat these conditions.
For example, advanced cancer, or that which has metastasized to different parts of the body, often carries a terminal diagnosis, but it can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. However, this route requires aggressive treatment at the expense of quality of life.
On the other hand, patients can refuse treatment for their terminal condition, in which case physicians offer palliative or therapeutic treatment to relieve them of pain and stress.
Such care can include medicines to treat symptoms such as pain, breathing difficulties, fatigue, and nausea.
Treating the biological side of a terminal illness involves a spectrum of possible care that patient can pursue.
Some wish to completely stop all medical treatment to avoid side effects and simply return to their families to live the rest of their life while others want aggressive treatment despite low success rates due to the desire to live longer. Still others can take a few maintenance or symptomatic medicines.
Palliative care focuses on physical, emotional, and spiritual care for the patient and family with the goal of reducing suffering, promoting healing, and improving quality of life.
Assurance of effective pain and symptom management.
Education about death and its aftermath, especially as it relates to decision-making.
Completion of any significant goals, such as resolving past conflicts
Although Kant views rejecting potential treatment for a terminal illness as suicide, Singer more fully considers how doing so can lead to a higher quality of life.
I'm thinking of discussing Kant and Singer in cases of terminal conditions where patients are not in PVS but death is certain in the future. In Kantian ethics, life has absolute worth. For such cases, extending life would be ideal, and accepting death by refusing treatment would be immoral. However, Singer allows us to take gray areas into consideration by working towards increasing quality of life. In this way, we can still respect life by...