The Price of Autonomy
"I don't want to be hooked up to medical machines when I am dying."
How often we hear those words. People's fear of being forced to live against their will by medical means is persistent and consistent across the entire political, religious, and moral spectra of American life. Pro-lifers are as concerned as pro-choicers, conservatives as liberals, the young as the elderly. Indeed, if I were asked to choose the most common worry people have about dying, I would not hesitate to say it is being tethered to high-tech medical machines and kept alive against their will.
Doctors once believed they were duty-bound to use every weapon in medicine's armamentarium to prevent death. But in the postwar years, as medical advances led to ever more grandiose expectations, the goal became more an obsession. Consequently, people were hooked up to machines, in part because of the erroneous belief that Hippocratic ethics required doctors to keep their patients alive as long as possible in virtually every case. But the existence of the machines themselves also contributed to the problem. Technology exists to be used. Innovations such as kidney dialysis machines, modern respirators, and the electrical heart defibrillator all have helped people to live who only a few years previously would almost surely have died.