Numerous advances in medical research, education and patient
care are being made in Oklahoma. This column will introduce you to
some of the programs that will make it possible for us to live
longer, healthier lives.
But the ability to prolong life through medical technology can
raise questions. Many people do not fear death, but fear not being
allowed to die. Biomedical ethics is a process that helps
physicians, patients and their families make these difficult
The Supreme Court decision in the Cruzan case determined that an
individual has a right to refuse treatment if that desire is made
known. But Nancy Cruzan could not articulate the desire to be
taken off life support and there was not clear and convincing proof
that she wanted to die.
"I think it was, as decisions go, pretty good," said Dr. Richard
Wright, director of the University of Oklahoma Biomedical and Health
Care Ethics Program. "It fully reaffirmed an individual's right to
refuse medical treatment regardless of anything else. And it made
it possible for an incompetent person to have that right exercised
on their behalf, provided that the desire can be documented.
"The problem with the Cruzan case was that the court decided
Nancy Cruzan had not made her wishes well enough known. But it
could have been a lot worse. They could have said you can't do
"The problem is that it is inappropriate for legislators and the
legal system to be making decisions on these kinds of cases. By
allowing the courts to intervene, we get people who know nothing
about ethics, health care or the specific case making the decision.
The state, through the courts and legislature, has no business
interfering in that decision-making process," said Wright.
"The decision is a private matter between the patient, the
physican and, if the patient is incompetent, the appropriate proxy
decision maker for the patient. This is an ethical process, not a
Teaching biomedical and health care ethics at the University of
Oklahoma helps health professionals understand the conflicts
involved in ethical dilemmas to make the right decision. It
involves teaching the process of decision making, recognizing
ethical problems, recognizing different ways to deal with ethical
problems and learning to understand different viewpoints.
The goal of the program is to integrate the instruction of
ethics into the curriculum of the seven colleges of the University
of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, which covers multiple dimensions
of the health care community. …