es g n le l a ch s ic h t ioe b to s u c o f g n ri b His Alvernia lecture, “End of Life: Legal, s Medical and Ethical Issues,” comes at a e u s time when advances in medical science and s i technology are prolonging life, intensifying fe difficult decisions faced by patients, doctors i l and spiritual and religious communities. f o While Christian understanding has long d held that death is defined by separation of n E the soul from the body, the Catholic Church A wrenching legal battle ensued, with legal, medical, ethical and end-of-life issues colliding with the emotional pain of Munoz’s sudden and tragic death. In the process, many tough questions surfaced: Was Munoz now just a “host” for the fetus, as her husband claimed? Were hospital officials misinterpreting Texas law? What does brain death really mean? For Arthur Caplan, the renowned bioethicist who has provided perspective for organizations ranging from the Vatican to the United Nations, these questions reflect the continuing and often contentious deliberation that is roiling public debate in the United States about end-of-life issues. “It has become harder to die,” Caplan says of the situation. “And it’s harder to have our wishes respected in terms of how we want to die.” Caplan delivered the Batdorf Lecture at Alvernia in March. He is considered one of the foremost experts on bioethics and the ethics of health care reform. The author or editor of 32 books and more than 600 papers in refereed journals, and currently head of the Bioethics Division at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, Caplan is a forceful advocate and commentator — in academia, medical circles and public media. His work has elevated discussions about death, dying and how we make critical decisions about life and death.
has looked to the medical community to determine biological signs that indicate with “moral certainty” that death has occurred. In recent years, medical research has provided proof that the irreversible loss of brain function offers a firm indicator that death has taken place. The family of Marlise Munoz eventually won its case against the hospital, and she was taken off life support. (Her fetus, then 22 weeks old, was not viable, the hospital said.) In other cases, however, families fight to keep patients on life support, citing a variety of reasons. Such debates are not new, of course. The Karen Ann Quinlan case in the 1970s and more recently, the Terri Schiavo case were among the most prominent that raised public awareness about right-to-die issues. Today, a raft of new technologies, drugs, devices and therapies keep us healthier and alive longer — exacerbating the already troubling decisions we have to make about dying. “We are simply getting better at keeping people alive,” Caplan observes. How we die and where we die is also changing. More people are dying in hospital settings instead of at home or in nursing facilities. That means possibly forgoing life support for a family member languishing in the ICU, an onerous decision. At the same
Alvernia University Magazine
Published on Jun 2, 2014