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Tuesday November 21, 2017
Posted: Sep 29, 2015

End of life discussion on campus avoids political posturing

College Connection

The discussion brought to the table many different perspectives and interests and was respectful and thoughtful. This is a significant piece of the mission of UMA, to engage and educate the community about important issues that people will have to address at some point in their lives. And it is likely that everyone will have to address issues around how much medical intervention is appropriate for yourself or your close family members at the end of life.

It is important to place this discussion in its historical context. It is only within the past century that the science and art of medicine has developed to the point where we can keep people alive using artificial respiration, feeding tubes, powerful antibiotics and intricate surgeries. Prior to 1900, medicine was impotent or worse to defend against the majority of diseases. We are fortunate to have these resources at our disposal.

But now that we can sustain life in many different circumstances, we are forced to decide when and how we should.

Katz’s bill would allow terminally ill patients to request a prescription from their physicians to cause their own death. These patients would need to make several requests, both oral and written, over time. Patients would need to be competent, which involves understanding the consequences of their actions. Physicians would be able to decline these requests. At this point, patients can refuse any life sustaining treatment in order to hasten their death. Katz’s bill would enable patients to request medical intervention to hasten death.

Obviously, many people object to liberalizing laws about the medical right to die. The most frequently raised issue outside of religion-specific objections is that we might slide down a slippery slope from allowing doctors to assist competent and terminal patients to a situation where we are placing expectations on people to kill themselves, whether they be people with disabilities, or people who simply feel as though they are a burden to others. The relatively narrow scope of Katz’s bill encouraged audience members to question whether it would apply to people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia (it wouldn’t). Or whether we could indicate in a living will that we wanted this kind of assistance if we were incompetent (again, not provided for in Katz’s bill).

But these reasonable questions indicated the seriousness of the slippery slope argument, where people with compassionate purposes would demand similar relief for themselves or their loved ones, risking broadening the bill enough to allow the potential for a slippery slope.

It is very good to be able to discuss these topics on a college campus, away from the grandstanding and posturing that often surrounds political debates in this country.

Michael Levey, left, and Michael Brown, both of Winthrop, listen during a public forum on end-of-life decisions held at Jewett Auditorium at the University of Maine in Augusta on Sunday. Kevin Bennett photo
Michael Levey, left, and Michael Brown, both of Winthrop, listen during a public forum on end-of-life decisions held at Jewett Auditorium at the University of Maine in Augusta on Sunday. Kevin Bennett photo

 

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