When does life support stop supporting life?

Life support

Life supportThere has been a lot of discussion in the news in recent months over what counts as “life,” between the right-to-die cases moving toward the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as the Rasouli cases and the right to keep a patient on life support when the family’s wishes conflict with the medical profession’s. Sometimes the question has to become: when does life support stop supporting life?

There are two incredibly sad cases in the US right now. Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old in California, had horrible complications from routine surgery that left her brain-dead. Her family believes that she could recover and have insisted that she remain on life support, even though doctors believe there is no chance of recovery. She has been declared legally dead, but has been removed to an undisclosed care facility as her family steadfastly believes that she could recover.

In Texas, a woman named Marlise Munoz was found unconscious by her husband, and has been on life support ever since. While her family has declared that she would not want to be kept alive artificially, she is pregnant, and state law prevents removal of life support until after the baby is born. Essentially, she is being forced to stay physically alive until her baby is born, when she will be allowed to die.

Life support, or artificial measures to prolong life as some ethicists suggest it should be called, is an extremely complex issue. The best way to make sure that what you want to happen, does, is to have a power of attorney for personal care and be very clear about your wishes.

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