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HUMAN LIFE:Who has the final Word?

  1. YES: They should be turned Off (Give Reason)

    19 vote(s)
  2. NO: They should Never be turned off (Give Reason}

    3 vote(s)
  1. Mar 18, 2005 #1
    Human Life is Purportedly Pricelss! When should life supporting machines be turned off? What are the actual deciding factors for turning off life supporting machines? Who decides when to be born? Ultimately, who decides who lives and who dies.........who has the final word??
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2005 #2
    REASONS: No price tag can ever be put on any life, let alone the human Life higher up the scale of reference. No reasons are SUFFICIENT at any level of enumeration, let alone warrant turning off any life-supporting machine, especially when it is a well known scientifc fact that:


    A MORALLY SOUND Society should never bring 'MONETARY VALUE' into this equation.
    There is no moral justification for turning off Life machines on the basis of money and other fictional excuses alone. There is a Quantitative reason rooted in nature alone that is currently epistemologically inaccessible to scientists and law makers who currently feel self-empowered to decide why and when to turn off life machines in our hospitals.

    The variation of Recovery Time (RT) according to the Size of Injury (SI) causally but epistemologically linked to the inability of the scientists and lawmmakers to precisely predict this is in my opinion more than a SUFFICIENT REASON for anyone not turn those machines off. There should be thunders and tsunamis in the moral conscience of anyone who neglects this fact and blindly adhers to the current 'Money-Decides-Everything' mentality or society.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2005
  4. Mar 18, 2005 #3


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    Ultimately, a person may decide to take himself off life support, either directly, or, when incapacitated beyond the ability to make such decisions, via previously given instructions. I cannot think of anyone more entitled to judge the value of continued existence more than the person in question. While I do not axiomatically accept the idea that "no price tag can be put on any life, especially human life", I do not care to debate this point further.

    I must ask, however, that more information be provided in the future. If this is meant to be a simple case of debating "deciding factors for turning off life support machines", then why add the information about recovery from coma? I believe you are referring to the Terri Schiavo case, but do keep in mind that PF is a global community and some members do not bother to monitor Florida or even US internal news.
  5. Mar 18, 2005 #4


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    I just skipped your well-documented, sourced and well paraphrased scientific facts to say that while the idea of never having a price tag on a human life may seem noble, it is in fact not the case and will most likely never be the case. People get price tags placed on their lives all the time, some for a few measly dollars. Morally, it is frowned upon, but it is not always the case that human life is above all money. Morally speaking, do you think it's right that a family should hit poverty or go bankrupt and live off the streets (open to disease) for the rest of their lives just because they spent their money for the hospital bills paying that keep their vegetable mother alive? It's not always so clear, and it may take some weighing in of consequences and the intentions of the people involved - rather than just flat out stating that price is never an object.

    Which morality are you talking about? Utilitarianism (the actual definition, not your invented one) definitely does not state that money is never a justification. Utilitarianism is a "moral theory" that many people use and justify, yet it definitely would contradict what you said - because money is part of this moral dilemma.

    EPISTEMOLOGICALLY linked? That makes no sense, man. Stop using big words and ad hoc arguments. These RT and SI things are your own creation, and will require not only an explanation, but proof that such a relationship exists with regards to scientists and lawmakers - and not just that you think there is a relationship.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2005
  6. Mar 18, 2005 #5


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    The entire dilemma can be avoided if people stop creating life in the first place.
  7. Mar 18, 2005 #6
    Have you voted GED?
  8. Mar 18, 2005 #7
    Well, many western countries are currently underpopulated. I think it would be ill-advised for them to take your advise under the present climate.

    HARD FACTS: Untill we win the battle with all forms of Pandemics and epidemics, and find a way of scientifically keeping up with the rate of Mutations of some very clever types of viruses, it would equally be twice as ill-adivised for any country to consider the idea of underpopulating.

    Nature currently keeps things going by mass replication of not only things themselves but also the actual needs with which to service them. And the Regulatory Laws that govern this process is not yet fully scientifcally understood. We are still wrestling with this. As functionally Ok or normal as this may sometimes outwardly appear, on a whole there is no guarantee that the whole process may not be exposed to major accident in future. It is propably a good idea to keep an eye on the population level while contemporaneously attempting to study and understand other intervening variables in the whole process.

    On the issue of coma still existing in the process, of course this is at least currently unavoidable. But like I have personally pointed out above, we would need more than empty excuses to turn life machines off in our hospitals when no single scientific authority exists that can accurately predict the exact time to do so relative to the scale of the injury sustained by the victim.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2005
  9. Mar 19, 2005 #8
    Turn them off only when brain scans and EKG's show no activity over a 2 to 6 month period of time.


    I have one, and there easy to create. I don't wish to be plugged full of tubes while my family/friends watch me urinate into a bag.
  10. Mar 19, 2005 #9
    The problem with coma is that the time scale for recovery could range between a split second and the victim's whole life span. We have heard of people recovering in a few hours , days, weeks, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 12 years, 15 years and recently 19 years somewhere in America. Precisely this variation in the recovery time scale and its unpredictability that calls for caution. Of course, everyone would want to play God with this issue, and give all sorts of reasons for this, but until science can tell us something concrete about the magnitude of the victim's internal or brain injuries relative to the recovery time scale I think it is ill-advised to turn these life machines off indiscriminately in our hospitals.
  11. Mar 19, 2005 #10


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    Those cases where they recover after years of being in a coma are much more unlikely than them never recovering after a few days or weeks. You're simply trying to make it good for all possible coma cases. But at what a cost! Since most of those years long coma patients never recover, or that recover but lose many of their brain functions, then you are spending money and hospital beds that could be used for many more people that can be saved or treated more successfully.

    Most people don't want to play God, but because doctors and family members are responsible for deciding when to cut off the machines, they need to make decisions pretty quickly - they cannot afford to spend months or years on hospital bills to check out the situation after 6 months for the miniscule chance that their loved one will recuperate.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2005
  12. Mar 19, 2005 #11


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    Ah, I see your overall strategy now.
    Ignore what counters your argument, ask a question that is irrelevant to the issue, and then write a new set of paragraphs with bold-lettered titles.

    Faulty assumption already. Many western countries have less of a population problem than other countries, but they are definitely NOT underpopulated. Most of the world (even the western countries) are overpopulated.

    Again, I have showed you why money is not an "empty excuse": yet you ignore or fail to provide a counter to that argument, and then continue on your merry way.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2005
  13. Mar 19, 2005 #12


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    This was easy ! I'm happy to take the "high ground" and solve the problem by hanging in the uniqueness of life, which monetary constructs can't reach (other reasons still do exist).
  14. Mar 19, 2005 #13

    It is probably a good idea for those of you wishing to take active part in the debate on this thread to familiarise yourselves with the Utilitarian philosophy. As I have already pointed out in many of my responses on other threads on this PF, Utilitarianism is a moral standpoint that nearly everyone of us automatically recognise in each other’s behaviour and thinking, even where we later turn out to dislike and reject it and took alternative moral standpoints. It is nature. Utilitarianism, in many of its guises (Act or Rule or any of its variants), has one unique feature: you feel, touch, taste and recognise it whenever you are confronted with choices, where you have to chose between them, especially when those choices are heavy-loaded and come all at once and you have to decide on the heap of the moment without any other chances available to you. Like a juggler, you must make those choices anyway, even where you have to forgo the most dear and revered. Utilitarianism claims to champion and pursue higher moral good and happiness, yet when you are confronted with a mountain of moral dilemmas in the real world there is nothing in the Utilitarian calculus or rule book which tells you what to discount or how much to discount from the heap! Often, thinking on your feet, stressed and lost in self-destabilizing thoughts, you just go ahead and make those hard choices anyway, …..go with the flow …..go by your natural instincts!.

    Don’t take my word for it …..take some lessons in the real stuff! Here below are the main links to a forest of materials in the utilitarian philosophy. Nearly all the major links are via Peter Singer’s Main website. After swimming through the volume of materials on his websites and other related links, you should appreciate why he is undisputedly the modern heavyweight on the subject. Happy swim!

    Peter Singer and Bioethics

    Peter Singer is now a celebrated champion of Bioethical Debates. These debates cut through the sticky issues about the rights and wrongs of various human complications in medical sciences. This includes such issues as euthanasia, human cloning, stem cells researches, etc. The fundamental ethical questions arising from these issues include:

    1) Is euthanasia or ‘Mercy Killing’ right or wrong?
    2) Is it right, or when is it right, for doctors to switch off life-supporting machines of their patients?
    3) Is it right to refuse a patient medical treatments for whatever reasons?
    4) Is it right to clone a human being?
    5) Is it right to perform experiments on the human embryo?

    Before Peter Singer got fully involved in Bioethics proper, he was already a well-known champion of animal right issues through his philosophical writings and lectures on the subject. On all these complex but extremely sensitive issues, it seems that his earlier works in ‘Applied Ethics’ tend to draw him more and more to the forefront as probably the most likely authority on the subject in modern times. Most philosophers that I have come across and by whom I have had an opportunity to be taught always seem to approach these issues in a more objective and non-practical manner, or should I say ‘descriptively’. But now as it seems that, Bioethics is a subject involving practical human problems of very complex nature that requires practical ethical solutions and that’s why any philosopher taking on the project may not avoid being ‘prescriptive’, however much he or she may want to avoid doing so. Some may say that utilitarianism has always been prescriptive and that's why Jeremy Bentham's version, for example, played a huge part in setting up the Western Legal Systems. True, but not in this scale that we are now seeing in our technologies-driven age.

    It seems therefore that ethics as we used to know it in philosophy is now shedding it’s ‘Descriptive image’ and is now becoming more and more ‘Prescriptive in scope and in substance’. The recent appointment of Peter Singer to the Bioethics chair at Princeton University (http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/98/1207/singer.htm ) as Professor of Bioethics seems to place him in the ‘Jim-will-fix-it’ position, and this has caused outrage throughout America and the wider world because of his actual involvement in practical clarification of the issue. It is not his involvement in clarifying the issues that is the problem but it is what his prescriptive philosophical arguments suggest that causes the outrage.


    http://www.petersingerlinks.com (Peter Singer’s Main Page containing all his publications, interviews, lectures and critics’ responses. For those of you who are not versed in Utilitarian philosophy, this link will also take you to the main utilitarian websites and a whole forest of materials in Utilitarian Philosophy. You will also meet all the main architects of the utilitarian philosophy from the classical times to the present times.).

    http://www.fact-index.com/p/pe/peter_singer.html [Broken] (Brief Introduction of the man himself and selected publications).

    http://www.str.org/free/bioethics/#steve [Broken] (Resistance to Bioethics by two devoted Christian advocates)

    http://www.inclusiondaily.com/news/advocacy/singer.htm (Mass Protests over his appointment to Princeton and against his views)

    http://www.consciencelaws.org/Examining-Conscience-Issues/ethical/Articles/Ethical19.html [Broken] (Bioethics Mess: The Historical Perspective)

    http://lists.envirolink.org/pipermail/ar-news/Week-of-Mon-20030825/005540.html (Commentary on the recent BBC Documentary on Peter Singer’s Bioethics Views)

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/programmes/analysis/transcripts/10_07_03.txt (BBC’s Radio 4 Transcript of a debate with Peter Singer on the subject)

    NOTE: Ok, now that you have hopefully familiarised yourselves with the Utilitarian philosophy, what view would you now have with regards turning off life-support machines in our modern day hospitals. What moral views would you take on henceforth? Do you think Utilitarianism has a case, whichever of its variants you may have settled or sympathised with?
    Think Nature......Stay Green! Above all, think of how your action may affect the rest of Nature! May the 'Book of Nature' serve you well and bring you all that is Good!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  15. Mar 19, 2005 #14
    Of course, other reasons do exist and each one of us are entitled to as many of those reasons as humanly possible. Yet when you turn to the public domain where you have to share space, time and nearly everything else with those you co-exist REALITY of the ultimate kind sets in. Many political philosophers like John Locke, David Hume, Hobbs, etc all gave varied but substantially similar accounts of what the so-called 'STATE OF NATURE' looks like. As slightly varied as those accounts were, they all gave grim and ugly pictures of what the State of Nature looks like. When I read every single one of these accounts, I just got a picture of a possible state of the world equivalent to hell.......ruled by beasts or a world in perpetual state of war and total anarchy. Well, that is the world that these philosophers similarly painted of the state of nature.

    Then they jointly and similarly gave 'THE AVOIDANCE OF THE STATE OF NATURE' (amongst many other reasons) as the most significant and perhaps the most likely of all the reasons for 'PEOPLE COLLECTING INTO A SOCIETY'. From this very foundational reason, each went ahead and formulated his own different but substantially similar form of government needed to hold such a socciety together. This is all well and good.

    But regardless of the type of government in place or moral rules or legal facilities in place to hold such a society together, in the end the states or conditions of things should be such that we are able to reconcile all our reasons and private prejudices alike with those of the people with whom we co-exist.

    The moral dilemma now is that despite all the checks and balances that these philosophers built into their models of society, this notion of collecting into a society in order to avoid a hellish state of nature is getting more and more socially, politically and economically intrusive. The activities of these socieites are getting more more intrusive. Some of your private reasons that you mentioned about having and holding dear are now slowly being taken away from us because of politicians, lawmakers and scientists whose house is not fully in order in terms of making scientifically sound predictions that we can all rely upon to make morally sound judgements about the the states that we find ouselves. Don't get me wrong, I am not in any way suggesting that science has not made a substantial progress in many areas of our lives. Rather, I am merely pointing out the fact that when it comes to making judgements about the life and death situation, the science that helps us to make those moral judegmenst is not yet perfect, hence the reason why we have to exercise the highest level of caution.

    Hence the argument is that since science cannot give us a reliable picture of what it takes to go into a coma relative to the time scale it takes for the victim to come out of it, then switching off machines indiscrimately in our hospitals is not an issue that both the families involved and the society as a whole should take lightly. Caution of the highest kind must be exercised.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2005
  16. Mar 19, 2005 #15


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    It has never been taken lightly, it is only your faulty assumptions that make it seem like doctors and families take the whole issue lightly.

    You are also contradicting yourself when you continue to press on about how we should not put money into the moral dilemma, "we put a price over human life", yet now you post about thinking on your feet and following your instincts, "Often, thinking on your feet, stressed and lost in self-destabilizing thoughts, you just go ahead and make those hard choices anyway, …..go with the flow …..go by your natural instincts!"

    Our instincts tell us to be careful and take care of our own well being - thus, it would be an error in judgement to say that other people's lives are always worth more than any amount of money.
  17. Mar 20, 2005 #16


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    In situations like the Schiavo case, words are cheap, grandstanding is rampant, philosophy is, in my opinion, often a way of distancing and/or denial. I suggest that it's very important to walk a mile or two in the other persons shoes. My suspicion is that there's not much personal experience in facing extraordinarily difficult medical decisions like the case in Florida.

    To suggest that life and death medical decisions are taken lightly is to display considerable ignorance of reality, and of the enormous stresses and strains such decisions place on the family and attending physicians. Such decisions plague many people, myself included; they are not nor should be treated as if they were hypotheticals in a university philosophy seminar. I have had to deal with tough life and death issues with an elderly grandmother, and two parents, a stepmother, a granddaughter and, to my great sorrow, my oldest son -- cancer at 44. Don't talk to me about what I should or should not do -- unless you have been there. For those of us who have had to deal with life and death issues, gratuitous words and academic philosophy are more likely to anger than help -- and, just for the record I've served as a physics prof, and, generally, have considerable regard for the academic community

    And, by the way, raising kids helps prepare one for the kinds of problems and issues that I and many others face in our 60s, 70s and older. And, for that matter, get a dose of reality by talking to nurses who work with terminal cancer patients and, particularly, pediatric nurses working with very ill small children. Talk to parents who have children with Down's Syndrome, etc... If you do so, you'll find your heart shredded, and if you have any humanity at all, you will probably keep your mouth shut when it comes to expressing any judgements about other's judgements.

    As I write this, I'm getting more and more angry about the expressions of ignorance in this thread. I will thus finish by saying to Philocrat, "Get real." If you are not already doing so, volunteer to do hospital or hospice work for the dying, and forget Peter Singer.

    Reilly Atkinson
  18. Mar 20, 2005 #17
    You seem to get me all wrong. I am not in anyway ignoring the fact that majority of the decisions made by the medical staff in life-critical situations are not taken lightly. With all the good will and intentions in the world there is no denial whatsoever that such life-critical decisions are extremely hard and heart-breaking for all the parties involved. My only concern is when those decisions are utitilitarian in scope and in substance. So, what do you do to avoid falling into a utilitarian mentality when making those decisions, especially when many agencies get entangled in the process? I am as concerned as many people when some of those decisions involve money, which in my opinion should never come into the equation at all. I am concerned by the possibility of the doctors's decisions being politicised and polluted by other agencies' private prejudices.

    I totally acknowledge all this and I completely understand what you are saying. I do not have to talk to anyone to see and know what is going on. I completly sympathise with anyone who has been in similar circumstances. The very best that can come out of all this is that we are discussing it, brainstorimng and hoping to come up with a fairer and a more humane system and ways of doing things.

    Do not get angry. Take a deep breath and Calm down. I am on your side. Making reference to Peter Singers Utilitarian Philosophy and his predecessors does not necessarily imply that I share his moral views or standpoint. I am merely alerting people to the fact that the effect of utilitarianism in the moral well-being of our society is wider and more complicated than it appears on the surface. My only interest on the subject is how to reconcile Utilitarianism with Universalism because often both are muddled up and confused without proper qualifications. Of course, Peter Singer does not mix his words. And he does see things differently ... and in utilitarian ways. But in my own opinion, turning machines off in the cases of coma patients should be judged purely by quantifying the size of injury and relating it to the time of recovery given how wide the recovery time spectrum currently is. Many families are now fighting for their loved ones to be left on those life-surpporting machines longer. The BIG question now is


    This is a multi-trillion dollar question. As it is now clearly emerging, the spectrum of the Recovery Time from a vegetative state is just too wide for us to neglect this question. It is very fundamental and must be addressed. It would be ill-advised and very naive for this to be politicised or polluted by any utilitarian moral views.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2005
  19. Mar 20, 2005 #18


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    Philocrat -- That you are a person of goodwill and compassion, I do not doubt at all. And, indeed, I recognize that there are issues greater than those faced by individuals and families in life or death circumstances. But what things often boil down to: father, in my case, according to the docs is making little progress with radiation treatment for a brain tumor. The treatment is somewhat experimental, proton beams were used. The docs are ambivalent-- they wanted to continue treatment, feeling that the possibility of cancer remission was small, but not zero. My stepmother, normally a brilliant woman, was literally out of her mind with worldclass denial, and was absolutely convinced my father was soon to return home. My dad's sister and I felt his suffering was being prolonged-- there was no way he would recover. In fact, it seemed to me that my father, sedated for intense pain, wanted to go. But, he was forced, in my opinion, to undergo several more radiation treatments, while getting progressively worse, and then he died. Emotions ran high, and, for a while my aunt and stepmother, once strong friends, did not speak for over a year. This is a typical situation, complex emotional, and, obviously, very difficult to resolve among people of good will, and strong moral values.

    So, it seems to me, that for philosophy to be relevant, it should confront practical reality and deal directly with real issues as they actually occur. For example, in coma situations, does not suffering enter as a factor -- either of the patient or the family? Let me assure you as a scientist, that science is only one of many elements to be considered in life and death judgements. And the plain fact is that science can seldom give the answers any of us might want. It always boils down to human judgement, informed or not. Reality is very messy, and humans are very fallible.

    Reilly Atkinson
  20. Mar 20, 2005 #19
    Yes, what one might quite rightly call:


    On one hand there is the PAIN AND SUFFERING ARGUMENT and families who demand to end the patient's suffering from agonising pain due to inadequate medical knowhow, and on the other hand there is the DON'T WITHDRAW TREATMENT/DON'T TURN OFF LIFE-MACHINES ARGUMENT and families who insist on keeping the treatments going pending potential recovery. This is the moral dilemma that the decision makers in the middle are facing. This is what forces utilitarian philosophers like Peter Singer to argue that in this case you should look at each case on its merit....that is, on a case-by-case basis. Whether he is right or not is a completely different matter.

    As I have mentioned ealier, Moral Philosophy or Ethics used to be substantially descriptive and less prescriptive. Your invitation for philosophy to get practical and relevant is already happening and come in form of Peter Singer who is now purpportedly assisting medical staff and victims and their families to ease their decision making burdens. Again, whether he is doing the right thing or not is a matter for individual judgements. But I do not think that this is an issue that many mainstream academic philosophers in ethics would like to get involved. The thought of having input on the subject at the practical level is just plain chilling for some, if not most.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2005
  21. Mar 20, 2005 #20


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    Quite a bit. And your "hypothesis" just plain ain't the way it works. Brain injuries, like some heart injuries, don't heal. Sometimes your body can make work-arounds, but if no improvement is seen after some months, none is likely.
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