Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A moral philosopher reacts to finding out she might enter a vegetative state.

British philosopher Soran Reader is outraged that she doesn't have a legal right to be killed if that happens.

She says:

Last month I was told I had a brain tumour.... As this [article] went to press, I was on my way to have a biopsy.... It carries a real risk of serious complications. I might die. I might suffer brain damage. I might lose large parts of my capacities to think, express myself and remember. ...

In all that mind-blowing horror, though, the possibility that really threatens to break me is that I may be unable to remember my children. ... I am certain that I do not want to live on if that happens.

I am terrified by the spectre of loss of self. But I am out of my mind with anger that my own country does not allow me to protect myself and my family from this horror safely. I am anguished at the thought that my children, on top of their grief at the loss of their mother, may have to cope with me as someone else, someone lost in the world or in a vegetative state. ...

My diagnosis has woken me from my mindless moral slumber on this topic, allowed me to feel the absolute outrage and moved me to start making the arguments.

It is completely wrong that UK law does not enable me to protect myself or my children from the loss of my self by arranging to be killed if the surgery goes wrong. ...

The law must be changed so that people facing fatal or self-destroying conditions do not also have to endure this agony of not being able to protect their selves and their loved ones. ...

I may not be in a position to press further for changes in the law after [the surgery], but I hope this article will persuade others to get this tiny little cornerstone of civilisation set right before too many others have had to bear this.

(Via Uncommon Priors.)

IN THE COMMENTS: Complications.


Anthony said...

There are huge definitional problems, and huge conflict-of-interest problems with this sort of issue, and writing laws to cover most of them is nearly impossible.

Suppose, for example, that Ms. Reader is wealthy, at least compared to a potential heir who doesn't really like Ms. Reader.

Now suppose that something goes a little wrong during that biopsy: she ends up brain-damaged, but not so damaged that she can't function or remember her children, or that she ends up in a coma, but one from which there is some possibility she will recover.

In the first case, she may not be considered competent enough to make the decision she wants to, even if, trapped inside her head, she knows what she wants. In the second case, her fate rests entirely on the opinion of others - will she ever recover from the coma, and how completely? How will those opinions be affected by the claim that "mother would have wanted it that way", even when that's not true?