Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Rewriting the End

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Rewriting the End

Article excerpt

An article in this issue of the Hastings Center Report feeds into a long-run and heated debate in bioethics, and about bioethics. "Going to Meet Death: The Art of Dying in the Early Part of the Twenty-First Century" argues that if one thinks that many years of incapacity and illness are generally to be avoided, then it is possible for death to come later than is ideal, and indeed that one of the drawbacks of the advance of medicine is that death does often come later than is ideal. It is therefore necessary, says the author, John Hardwig, to think of death not just as a thing that happens to one, but as something one may have to go out and meet. Often that will just mean that we must be ready to refuse or withdraw medical treatment for an illness that might be treatable, and whose treatment might give us some additional years. Sometimes, that can even mean suicide--says Hardwig.

Hardwig's position is occasionally thought to be the general view within bioethics and the position specifically of The Hastings Center. Not so. Hardwig is not alone, but he is also very far from setting out a consensus position within bioethics. In his own acknowledgments, he thanks a former student who "has refined my thinking" but who "would disagree with almost everything in this paper." One of my colleagues at The Hastings Center and a companion on the Report's editorial committee commented, "I prefer the Emily Dickinson approach--'Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me'--to going and meeting it." Dan Callahan, the Center's founder, has long opposed the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. …

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