Question: Is there an ethical limit to prolonging life?
Ira Byock: Well, I think that its appropriate to preserve into frankly celebrate life, I think the notion of being life affirming is something that I think all of us in healthcare really affirm and celebrate, and I don’t know of any more pro-life a group then, those of us who work in hospice and palliative care, frankly. But to celebrate life, to affirm life, one really needs to affirm all of life, and its turns out that this gift of life as precious as it is, is a finite gift. And part of life for ourselves as individuals will be this time we call dying. And part of life for our families is a time of life we go on grieving, and really to be life affirming, one has to encompass that in a full and healthy perspective on living.
So I frankly think that, that again our culture and healthcare as a set of professions are disciplines within the culture, really has to grow the rest of the way up. We have to get over the fact that we are mortal, and integrate these inevitable experiences of dying, death and grief within as a view of full and healthy living. Otherwise if you just focus on living longer at some point, its not just ethically problematic, it becomes delusional. It’s just not going to happen. And so well its fine to strive to prolong life, you have to figure out a way to do that, and also acknowledge that if this is the last part of somebody’s life, it also ought to be as comfortable as it can be, and that their own values and priorities need to be incorporated into an approach, a plan of care and general approach that really service them and their families.
Recorded on: March 21, 2008