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Ethical Brain: Chapter 2

#21: Oct. - Dec. 2005 (Non-Fiction)

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Re: Ch. 2 - The Aging Brain

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ginof: Perhaps those completely unable to function are not truely human. However, I don't know that we would take away any rights they have as humans.This seems to me a pretty worrisome line to tread. On the one hand, it provides some sort of theoretical foundation for terminating life in the case of patients with presumably no chance of recovery. On the other, it could also provide the theoretical foundation for sustaining unrecoverable cases so that they may be used for certain kinds of scientific experiementation. Assuming that we all share, if not the conviction, then at least the vague feeling, that such use would serve as an ethical breach, then we're obligated to reassess either 1) the idea that humanity can be determined by "certain standards of competency", or 2) the assertion that this conception of humanity should serve as the basis for ethics.I guess my thought experiment around this would be: If you knew that tomorrow you would no longer be able to communicate and you would die six months later, and during this 6 months you would be in a lot of pain, further, there was no chance of cure, would you want to die? I'm not sure, but I think I would. At the very least, many would seriously consider it.Looking at the extremes can distort the issue. Let's take a less extreme example. If told that, tomorrow, they would be paralyzed from the waist down, how many people would opt for suicide now, while they can still do it for themselves? Do we have any sort of moral obligation to attempt to prevent that?Or another: a person is told that they will go irrecoverably blind within the week. That person plummet's into despair, making clear gestures towards a desire to kill themselves. Given that blindness is, for that person at least, an "abnormal" state, why should we feel any less inclined to prevent their suicide than we would in the case of a physically healthy 15 year old? tarav: Is not taking the pills suicide?I say no. Not taking the pills cannot be equated with an active desire or intention to die. In some sense, it's refusing intervention, but I'd say it's no more an act of suicide than is smoking, or eating poorly. These are all choices that, when considered, are likely to lessen a person's chances of dying, but they're not made in order to hasten death but rather out of other considerations.These are the sort of decisions that we all make on a daily basis, and very few people choose longevity over "quality of life" on a consistent basis. The difference in the example you've cited seems, to me, to be a matter of quantity -- this boy can be more reasonably certain that his decision will shorten his life, whereas the rest of us can happily sustain the illusion that these decisions won't make much of a difference in the long run. And in the end, he's entitled to the same excuse that we make on a daily basis -- there are plenty of dangers which might precipitate his death before the disease ever kills him.Further, I'd say that deciding to name this an instance of suicide would obligate the judge to consider other forms. Christian Science as a whole would have to be considered a philosophical stance promoting suicide. I don't endorse Christian Science, but neither would I say it particularly endorses suicide.
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