Doctors, Death, and the Public Square

Recently I noted that right and left have taken issues with the medical profession, which while underlying reasons are different both come down to the same point … That of a conflict between the right of individual medical professionals to treat with end of life issues as their conscience guides them as opposed to how the state would regulate their response. In both cases, right and left applaud those cases with which they agree, and condemn those they disagree thinking the doctors right or wrong depending on circumstance.

Doctors in many circumstances have been given free reign in the realm of life and death. De facto, and possibly correctly so, doctors usually in consultation with families are deciding on a day to day case by case basis when and how to give, when to withhold end of life care for the elderly in this country. This matter largely is out of the hand of the state. Is that a good or a bad thing? Perhaps that leaving this out of the hand of the state, this is in fact a good idea.
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Each case is not referred to the courts. Autopsy, review, and discussion do not accompany every death whether under a doctors supervision or not. And unlike the philosopher Mr Dworkin, who posits that philosophers would be best suited to decided ethical matters, I think doctors are better suited to this by matter or practice and profession (calling?) than our legal and philosophical leaders. Mr Dworkin is mistaken if he supposes philosophers best suited to solve ethical questions, for just as you would not call an expert in chemistry and thermodynamics to repair your car, but instead look to one who spends his daily life … well … fixing cars, you would not call someone who researches and studies new thinking, methods, and the history of ethics to solve a moral dilemma but instead look to someone who is experienced at dealing with such problems in the real world every day.

Thus it seems to me that we can have a consistent answer to how to deal with the ethical questions of life and death with which our doctors and pharmacists must deal. We should try to restrain from pushing legislation and the public square into these matters unless forced. In these matters our medical professionals are far more experienced and deal regularly with these problems. They are in fact more “expert” in these matters than the legislators and judges who might wish to judge or regulate these matters. And in fact on these ethical questions, the medical community will not have one answer, but in fact, I think that is good. For our society, and perhaps rightly so, does not have “one” view of truth and good but a melange of views.

On the other hand, I am in fact bothered by Ms Malkin’s reporting of a child in England for whom doctors have refused resuscitation for a brain damaged child against the parents wishes. I am only “bothered” by this case, because I don’t know the details. I don’t know why cannot the parents, if they do not agree with the doctors assessment, seek different doctors? Perhaps this gives lie to the other part of the “diversity” issue is that given that if we grant that doctors might have a diversity of opinion on ethical matters, that behooves the medical community (insurance included) to give patients the choice to seek care with a doctor they trust and whose ethics they respect. If on the other hand, “no doctor” can be found, because “all doctors” would agree that withholding care is best for the child … then who am I, a Christian father living half a world away surrounded by a different culture trained in Physics and programming computers for my livelihood (and racing bikes for fun), to disagree? I might wish to do “anything” to save the life of my child, but perhaps not.

Now another point might be raised. That our doctors, while they do deal with these questions on a regular basis, might not be “reading the right books”. That by concentrating on quality of life, and a shallow view of happiness, they sometimes forget the human? But it is, I deem, unfair of us to pin this on our doctors, for a particular shallow view of happiness and the human good might more correctly viewed as a problem endemic to the whole of our culture, not just our doctors.

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4 comments

  1. Left2Right says:

    on Moral Expertise?Pseudo-Polymath on

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