Ethical Dilemma: When Does Prolonging Life Become Wrong

In the last few days, I met one patient, who tried to commit suicide by drinking poison with red wine and slashing her wrist. She was conscious during the time I took care of her, but refuses to eat because for her, in that way she will die faster. Everytime I met her, she always says her willingness to die in spite of all my encouragement and constant communication. My experience taking care of her was quite strange for me such that it leads me to ask myself when does prolonging life considered a mistake.

Dysthanasia is the opposite of euthanasia. The first type is act of unnecessary prolonging one's life by initiating unreasonable, non-beneficial health interventions. On the other hand, euthanasia is the act of facilitating death. Although these concepts are non-synonymous, they are still closely related as these concepts tackle the dilemma surrounding an inevitable event in human life, that is death.

So when can we say prolonging one's life may constitute a moral deviation. In this article, three reasons will be provided.

1. When life-saving measures seem hopeless and will never improve one's health condition.

When does a medical intervention considered hopeless. It occurs when the anticipated benefit will cause more damage as its side effect. Say for example, a frail patient with heart failure exhibiting deteriorating vital signs such as extremely weak and low pulse, with unappreciable blood pressure. Although protocols may include administration of drugs that will reverse low pulse and blood pressure, the said drug may even initiate the patient's heart to fail further by forcing the heart to function more than it is capable of.

2. When the person thinks of death most of the time such that there exists no reason of living.

This reason seems to be very subjective. Medical practitioners can not use this as a standard. Many thinks there will always be a reason to live, but if life seems to be full of pain, misery, irreversible dependence and constant state of depression, with suicidal tendencies. Personally, all mentioned conditions must be present before thinking of not initiating measures to prolong one's life.

The lack of one condition seems inadequate to consider an act of allowing a person to passively die as reasonable. It is understandable that even these conditions are stated and well-defined there is still a possibility of abuse and misuse. Here exists another ethical dilemma. However, many might wonder whether all those conditions may even be present in a single case. My experience with my latest patients speaks for itself. It is possible, though unusual.

3. When the person has no fear of death and has no concept of Supreme being

More subjective than the second reason is the this third one. It is quite unimagineable that someone does not fear death. Perhaps, it is safe to say that no one fears it. However in reality, there are people, who repeats unsuccessful suicidal attempts. Do we have to wait for these attempts to be repeated? What I mean is that even all necessary measures have been made to prevent suicide, if the person still thinks it is appropriate to end his or her life, let them do it. That is their choice in spite of efforts to avoid it.

Futhermore, death is most feared not just because of the physical discomfort and the emotional misery that is associated with it, but also the concept of life after death. Should one considers life ends at death that there is nothing that awaits after, it could be easier for them to think death is part of life and could possibly be hasten without worrying of its consequences. In this situation, forcing one to believe on a Supreme being maybe futile to do, although I can say, an attempt is always welcome. However, knowing one's limitations is a must. One must remember a person can decide to have their own faith, and even entitled to have none.

Lastly, even after all my explanations, I am still confused. This is an ethical dilemma that everyone must ponder on. In my mind, even how I try to comprehend by making logical reasons to support the patient's will, I still end up asking whether this question is even worthy an answer. Many wants to live. Why should one want to die, while others even fear it. Has earth ran out of reasons to be happy such that others think and decide to die? Perhaps, this question deserves an answer. Mine is no. Yours?


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