When Imperatives Collide

From the intriguing new website Big Questions Online here is a thought-provoking piece by Susan Jacoby. In this extract she sets the stage:

My mother, at 89, lives with a sound mind in a failing and frail body. She has had a living will for decades, and it specifies that no extraordinary medical measures — including artificial feeding — be used to prolong her life if there is no hope of recovery. She has explicitly told my brother and me, who have the legal power to make her health-care decisions if she is no longer able to do so, that she wants nothing done to keep her alive if her mind is gone. You can’t get much clearer than that.
In spite of the advance planning for which my mother is legendary, she might be in real trouble if she were unfortunate enough to be taken in an unconscious state to an emergency room at a Roman Catholic hospital. The moral values of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — not her own values — could dictate her care.
The bishops’ most recent health-care directives, issued near the end of 2009, make it clear that they consider it the duty of Catholic health-care providers to impose artificial nutrition and hydration on patients in persistent vegetative states. My brother and I would, of course, take immediate steps to have our mother removed from a setting where her wishes would be ignored. But what if she had no living children or, like some two-thirds of Americans, had procrastinated about putting her instructions in writing?
Here is an issue involving the separation of church and state that is, at its core, a question of whether individual liberty of conscience really means liberty for all…

Discuss among yourselves

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