A prominent view in medical ethics today is that withdrawal from life support is an act of killing. As Julian Savulescu has recently explained: Ethics Essay, UCD, Ireland
|University||University College Dublin (UCD)|
A prominent view in medical ethics today is that withdrawal from life support is an act of killing. As Julian Savulescu has recently explained:
In neonatal intensive care, it is not uncommon for a doctor to withdraw artificial ventilation with the consequence that a baby dies. If anyone else performed that act, including the parents of the child, it would be viewed as an act of homicide, in some cases murder. But when a doctor performs that act, it is not murder. The active withdrawal of life-prolonging medical care is a standard part of medical practice in relation to people who experience severe
disability and suffering.
In making this point, Savulescu rejects the legal view that withdrawal of life-support is an omission that allows the baby to die. One reason this view is unsatisfactory, according to Savulescu, is that it has the absurd consequence that the person authorized to withdraw has merely omitted to provide further treatment, whereas anyone else who acted to withdraw the treatment ‘would be judged to have acted in such a way as to kill, not to be “omitting to save a life” or letting die’. He explains this absurdity as follows:
The very same act is described in law as an ‘act’ or an ‘omission’, depending on whether or not a doctor performs it. Whether it is right or wrong might depend on whether a doctor performs it, but the nature of some physical events cannot logically depend on the identity of the person involved. A parallel is that ‘running’ is a certain kind of action of the body, whether or not a doctor or someone else is performing it.
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