Whose Life Is It Wanyway?
Essay title: Whose Life Is It Wanyway?
WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY?
During the past year, a Broadway play entitled, Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1) by Brian Clark, has portrayed dramatically the problem of what type of care to give people who may be kept alive in a conscious state but whose level of human activity would be impaired drastically. This problem is solved rather easily when the person in question is rather old, in an irreversible coma and near death from natural causes. Then there is little question that life supporting means may be removed and “nature allowed to take its course.” But when the person concerned is conscious and states that he or she does not wish to live an impaired life with mechanical support systems, what judgment should be made? “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” offers a means to consider this problem.
Ken Harrison is a young sculptor who had a very serious automobile accident. Six months after the accident, he is still in the hospital and “as a result of treatment, all the broken bones and ruptured tissues have healed and all that remains is the ruptured spinal column and the mental trauma” Because he will be paralyzed for the rest of his life, unable to urinate or care for himself in anyway, Ken decides that he does not wish to go on living. When informed by a social worker of the things he will be able to do “with training and a little patience,” such as operate a typewriter and reading machines, he replies that this “would not be good enough.” When discussing the situation with his lawyer, Ken states that though he realizes other people may live with dire handicaps, for him, life would be too burdensome if he were to continue in this way. Ken, then, wishes to be discharged from the hospital, have the catheter removed, so that “the toxic substances will build up in the bloodstream and poison him.”
Dr. Emerson, the attending physician, believes that Ken is merely depressed and that if given more time will choose to live. He states, “It is impossible to injure the body to the extent that Mr. Harrison had and not affect the mind.” From his experience, he thinks that Ken will change his mind later on. In order to prevent Kens discharge and ensuing death, Dr. Emerson seeks to have Ken committed to the hospital as mentally unstable, but Kens lawyers apply for a writ of habeas corpus which would free Ken to leave the hospital and discontinue the lifesaving care. The climax of the play is the hearing on the writ of habeas corpus, Justice Millhouse presiding.
Do you think that Ken has the moral right to choose death in this situation? Is he committing suicide? For solving this problem, ethicists use the principle of ordinary and extraordinary means. If the catheter is judged to be an extraordinary means, then it may be removed and thus Ken would be allowed to die. From an ethical point of view, a surgical procedure, medical device, or medicine cannot be determined