Monday, May 14, 2018

Alexander v. Scripps Memorial Hospital (Cal. Ct. App. - May 11, 2018)

This opinion primarily concerns a variety of technical and procedural issues, but the underlying facts present a difficult moral quandary.  What should a hospital do when someone's obviously terminally ill -- days from dying -- but has expressed in writing that she wants all aggressive measures (CPR, etc.) done to her in an effort to preserve her life?

On the one hand, what she says goes.  It's her life.  If she wants CPR, she gets it.  If she wants to have medical procedures done, fine.  That's what we mean by autonomy.

On the other hand, are doctors and other medical professionals morally required to do things that they are certain will only cause more pain and suffering?  Pounding on a chest or cutting open a patient who's in the terminal stages of cancer (with metastases everywhere) when all that would do is to keep a minimally conscious patient alive and in constant pain for another couple of days?  What if they think that violates their own oath to "do no harm"?

Yet doesn't it just seem wrong to cut down someone's nutrition in their feeding tube because it's doing more harm than good?  How you balance autonomy vs. other interests seems incredibly tough to me in this context.  Particularly when someone is literally days away from what we know is certain death and is in both pain and minimally aware.

One thing I know for certain.  I'm glad that the graduate school I attended was law rather than medicine.