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Hello! I'm a nursing student that recently cared for a child in the ICU. This

Hello! I'm a nursing student that recently cared for a child in the ICU. This child has never had the ability to speak, smell, see, walk, swallow, or care for herself in any way. She comes to the hospital frequently because the only way to survive is with medical machinery and constant suctioning. Unfortunately, the parents have become burned out. I felt like I was prolonging misery. To "pull the plug" on anyone is never easy, but it seems less ethical to do so on a child than it does with the elderly. Should quality of life have greater influence than age?

The parents and you may indeed be miserable, but who is to say that the patient has so little quality of life that she would be better off dead than alive? As you say, we might be more inclined to pull the plug were she to be older and we could say that the patient has at least had a life and has nothing much to look forward to in the future. But in the case of a child, and even an older person, the vagaries of what can happen to a person are so various and hard to predict that it is difficult to be sure of her outcome in any case.

It might be argued that one of the criteria of an ethical society is one where those who are having severe physical and mental problems are treated as humanely and professionally as possible, despite the expense and the trouble it causes. Life can be miserable and yet even within a severely limited form of existence there are possibilities of satisfaction that it would be a shame to deny someone because we no longer kept them alive.

Greeting's oh wise one's, my question ... How is it morally correct to put a

Greeting's oh wise one's, my question ... How is it morally correct to put a very sick animal" out of it's misery" yet not accord the same privilege to a Human who has no chance of recovery ? What baffle's me most is the thoughtfulness given to the dog ,but denied the human . Kind regard's Dermot

One difference I suppose is that someone is taken to own an animal, but only God owns human beings, according to many religions, and so only he can take the decision on life and death.

We do often decide to allow a patient to die and in some places we can actively bring about that death, with their agreement and if we think there is no prospect of recovery.

Some people believe that removing someone from life support is wrong and is

Some people believe that removing someone from life support is wrong and is "playing God" because it could most likely cause death. With that line of thinking, shouldn't life support be considered "playing God" since they are sustaining life (especially when there is almost no chance for recovery)?

I think you're right to wonder about the 'playing God' objection. First off, it's not always clear what the objection actually is. Sometimes, it seems to be the straightforward claim that only God may make decisions about life and death (and so about when to prolong life or hasten death); humans may not. But, if this is the claim, you're right to notice that, if it works against a decision to hasten death, it should also work against a decision to prolong (or sustain) life; and so, the objection ends up also undermining the position of the person making the objection. But I wonder if the objection is not sometimes a different sort of claim, one that doesn't suffer this sort of problem. The claim might be that only God may decide the time of a person's death, particularly when means are available to us humans to prolong or sustain that life. In other words, the claim might be that, so long as there are means available to prolong a person's life, we humans must decide to use those means to prolong that life, because otherwise we are deciding to end that person's life prematurely and that's a decision that is properly left only to God. Now, there may very well be other problems with this version of the 'playing God' objection, but it at least doesn't suffer from the problem that you raise for the other version of the objection.

You'll notice that I didn't address the parenthetical "(especially when there is almost no chance for recovery)". That's because I think that is really a separate issue, one having to do with the relevant sense of 'life' that is or is not to be prolonged. If there's no chance of recovery (and so, let's assume, the person is in a permanent vegetative state), you might think that there is no way to prolong 'life' in the relevant sense of life. In this sort of case, you can often prolong the biological life by ensuring that the body's biological functions continue, but you cannot prolong the human life (a life of a human who is conscious, etc.), for there is no such life left to prolong. Why make this distinction (or a distinction like it)? Because someone who objects to 'playing God' in the second sense above could still agree to remove someone who's in a permanent vegetative state from life support, for she can say that this person is no longer 'alive' in the relevant sense and so there's no question of whether to prolong life or hasten death; there's only the question of whether or not to keep the body's biological functions going.

I have been ill since 1993 so much so that I now have 20 documented medical

I have been ill since 1993 so much so that I now have 20 documented medical disorders, including depression, psychosis and schizophrenia. In the past 13 months I almost died twice of acute renal failure and digestive system poisoning. I was hospitalised five times during this period. I am now taking 26 tablets per day plus weekly hormone injection. I am in severe pain 24 hours per day. Since I cannot eat what I want to eat, cannot do what I want to do and cannot go where I want to go, is euthanasia justified for my specific case?

Your condition sounds truly terrible. You have my sympathy.

It would be deeply unethical for me or anyone on this panel to try to discuss your particular situation in a forum like this. I would hope that you have a trusted friend or relative with whom you could discuss the matter, someone who knows you well, and who could serve as a sounding board as you work toward what has to be your own decision.

I will only make this observation: you certainly should not attempt to make any decision about this if your depression is not being treated adequately.

What I can do as a professional philosopher is to steer you toward some academic work that surveys and discusses the ethical issues involved. I suggest you read Robert Young's entry on "Voluntary Euthanasia", which you can access online at the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy: The article is mainly concerned with the social policy question of whether voluntary suicide should be legalized, but I think you'll find the arguments discussed to be relevant to your own situation as well.

Again, I am very sorry you are suffering so greatly.

In human terms, is not euthanasia a preferred and valid alternate to the

In human terms, is not euthanasia a preferred and valid alternate to the artificial and selfish attitude of "life at all costs" now generally practiced?

I take it that you are talking about extreme and expensive technical measures to prolong life. These measures are of course artificial, but that in itself shouldn't count against them (what is wrong with, say, taking an 'artificial' pill for a headache rather than allowing the 'natural' pain to continue?). Is requesting those measures selfish? Well, we don't usually condemn as selfish those who spend resources even on comparatively trivial things -- such as CDs or cars. One's life is a condition for many if not all other goods, and most people believe that we have a right, other things being equal, to decide when it should end and in what way. Now it might be said that the resources being used to provide this kind of care could produce a whole lot more good elsewhere. But that point -- which seems to me a strong and important one -- applies to most expenditure, in the developed world at least, not to that on life-saving medicine in particular.