News

Schiavo Case Raises Ethical Issues

A family tragedy has turned into a national debate in the United States. Should the feeding tube that was keeping a 41-year-old brain-damaged woman alive for the past 15 years have been removed? The courts have weighed in on the question. So has the U.S. Congress. But the case of Terri Schiavo has raised ethical issues that could have repercussions beyond the fate of one woman.

Whether siding with Terri Schiavo's parents, who want their daughter to receive nourishment, or her husband, who says Terri would not want to be kept alive like that, difficult ethical issues underlie this tragic case. Many Americans are already debating them: If there is no hope for an individual's recovery, should end-of-life care be continued? And who should make such decisions?

According to Arthur Caplan, one of America's most prominent bio-ethicists, an even larger ethical quandary is confronting American society.

AC: "Probably the biggest ethical issue is the battle between those who favor life over those who favor liberty. For many years in American medicine, we've tried to respect the position that people can choose to end medical treatment even if it means they will die. That's probably the hardest ethical battle of all."

VOA: When you mention life versus liberty, are you just talking about liberty when it comes to medical issues, issues of life and death, or does it creep into other matters involving freedom, involving liberty?

AC: "The idea that someone can say no to medical treatment has its roots in two concepts. One is the right to be free from unwanted bodily intrusion. No one can touch you or intervene with you without your permission. That's a very core value because even things as basic as the right to not be sexually assaulted or raped come from this notion of freedom, from bodily intrusion. The other core concept is privacy, that you have a right to be left alone, that no one should interfere with you or meddle with you.

"Those notions of autonomy and privacy, which combine to make this so-called liberty interest, are foundational for many different types of freedoms that individual citizens in the United States enjoy. So to try and compromise the right to say no to medical treatment will probably puzzle courts and create ethical turmoil here, if that's the way things go, because you're tapping into some very core values that support many different areas of choice."

VOA: If a judge from a court sought you out to get ethical guidance on this how would you advise that judge?

AC: "I would say this: 'Feeding tubes, Judge, are medical treatments. There are those who would say they are not. I've actually heard statements coming out of the Vatican in the past couple of months that say feeding tubes are ordinary care, more like giving someone a blanket.

"'But that isn't true. Feeding tubes are surgically implanted. You have to put artificial substances into them to make them work, and you need to have doctors and nurses and technicians to keep them in place without complications. So, Judge, you need to understand that we're talking about a medical treatment. Since it is a medical treatment, people have the right to refuse it, stop it or forego it.'"

VOA: In this case, unfortunately, Terri Schiavo never wrote down her wishes. And now it comes down to the word of her husband against the word of her parents.

AC:"So I'd say, 'Judge, we now have a terrible dilemma, a divided family. And you have to decide who you're going to listen to. My view is, the husband has priority over the parents. And I say that because she chose to live with him, she clearly loved him, and that marriage was intact. Now, Judge, if you want to have somebody corroborate or confirm that she may have said these things, he brought forward witnesses who did testify that she said she didn't want to be this way.'"

VOA: What ethical issues do you foresee discussing with your college students and thinking about or writing about yourself down the road?

AC: "I think it's very important that we talk about how America deals with science. There is an odd American mixture. We believe -- some of us -- that God, or the divinity, will work a miracle and Terri will come back to us. But at the same time, we keep talking about 'you can't take a feeding tube away.' So we have two gods: technology and, for some of us, a religious god. And for some purposes of public policy, it's sometimes hard to see how both can be elevated at the same time. That's the American dilemma."

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs