Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ethical Dilemma (1)

Post 17

I belong to a small organization that is busy at promoting the teaching of BC’s different world views in the public school system. The organization is called "World Views Collaborative" (WVC). Its members are consciously recruited from different religions and world views. They include secular Humanists, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Unitarians and various kinds of Christians. We are all aware of the stark differences between our respective worldviews, but, in the interest of a common mission that we all espouse, we have decided to work together and have gradually developed strong personal bonds between each other. Though we are all firm adherents to our respective world views, we have decided to be tolerant of our differences. We talk about them freely, accept and respect each other and, though disagreeing, we do not criticize each other’s perspective.

Among other exercises, we have devised an ethical dilemma project in which each member explains how she would solve the dilemma on basis of her worldview. So, various members have submitted their contribution, all of which are found on the WVC’s webpage

Below I reproduce the first ethical dilemma assigned to all of us, after which I reproduce my response to the dilemma from a Calvinist perspective.

Dilemma (1) – Medical Intervention vs. Death

Your 80 year old brother, who lives at a great distance from you, has been hospitalized with pneumonia. He has no "living will." The treating physician asks your sister-in-law to authorize a surgical procedure that would make it very difficult for the patient to speak and would also require that he be fed through a gastric tube for an indeterminate length of time. Without these measures the patient is not expected to survive longer than a week.

A Calvinist Perspective (slightly edited from the website version)

My basic Christian view is that, even under extraordinary circumstances, human life is always inviolate and sacred. It must be protected. That is true for everyone’s life, poor and rich, young and old. At both ends of life. One of the issues in this case may be resources and finances, where a choice must be made between the life of this one elderly man or of some younger or more vital people who are responsible for the lives of dependents. The example is not clear. But given his age and the information at hand,

I would recommend the procedure–

-- if the brother can live with the intervention in reasonable comfort;
-- if his post-pneumonia health is of viable quality that could still qualify as life, in distinction
from a very poor and painful existence;
-- if there are viable care-taking arrangements in place.
-- if the procedure and subsequent care will not make heavy demands on the public purse that
would lead to younger people with dependents being bypassed.

I would recommend that the situation be allowed to take its natural course–

-- if his life during intervention would be (next to) intolerable;
-- if there are no viable care-taking arrangements available;
-- if the resources expended on extending this life would be at the expense of a younger persons
lives, especially those with dependents.

I invite readers to challenge me on this one, especially fellow Christians. We are facing unfamiliar situations today. Medical technology allows amazing life extension sometimes, but usually at terrific expense. In Canada and many other Western countries, such expenses will often have to be borne by the public. The public purse can be stretched only so far and therefore choices have often to be made. Should this life be preserved at any cost, even if it should mean that a younger, more vital, person with dependents would not get needed treatment and be kept from supporting his dependents? Should that course be followed, the total expense would be horrific. A fragile life would be preserved, most likely under very negative conditions hardly worthy of the designation "life." The younger persons with dependents might go down the tube, with several promising lives perhaps forever thwarted, which would potentially drag out expenses over many decades of distorted lives. In BC, at least, the cost of a street person is something like $60,000 per annum. All lives are sacred, that of the younger person and her dependents as much as that of this fragile elder who has lived his life. What would be your solution?

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