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Can There Be a “Duty to Die” without a Normative Theory?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2002

GARY SEAY
Affiliation:
Philosophy at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York.

Extract

Unlike many philosophers who write on biomedical ethics, John Hardwig is not primarily concerned to test our intuitions about the limits of normative theories by thought experiments or problematic borderline cases. Rather, he presses us to accept the conclusions to which our most firmly held principles commit us. But these conclusions, if Hardwig is right, turn out to be quite startling claims about moral duty that would undermine much of contemporary bioethical theory regarding end-of-life decisions. On his view, we must face squarely the moral implications of our present arrangement of healthcare funding in the United States, where more and more of the financial responsibility of care is being shifted onto the families of patients, often with disastrous results. Yet, in the context of this increasingly unstable arrangement, our chief principle of medical decisionmaking also holds that their interests are not morally relevant at all in deciding what should be done for the patient, and only the patient's wishes count (insofar as we can determine them). Now Hardwig thinks that this rule is irrational in the present circumstances, and that it would make more sense to admit the moral relevance of the interests of family members, but also that if we do give appropriate weight to their concerns, we shall be led in some cases to the conclusion that the patient has a duty to die.

Type
SPECIAL SECTION: AUTONOMY: THE DELICATE BALANCE
Copyright
© 2002 Cambridge University Press

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