In the Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis notes that, “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”
Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine published a “Perspectives” column, “Life or Death for the Dead Donor’s Rule?,” in which the authors illustrate Lewis’ point with their redefinition of non-maleficence to better serve a re-defined autonomy.
They would convince us that there is no harm in hastening the death of a dying patient even by intentionally causing it if he or his surrogates ask. They ignore a 2500 year old First Principle of Medical ethics,focused on the health of the patient in front of us: “Cure when possible, but first do no harm, ”
Autonomy, like all rights, is a negative right: the patient has the right to refuse invasive medical interventions that will harm him or that he does not want. Patients and surrogates, if they can compel the use of medical skills and invasive technology, can only do so for the medical benefit of the patient himself.
Illogically, in these times of reducing costs, the authors would have us consider taking a patient from the ICU to the OR “and then take him back to where life support would be withdrawn.” The return to the ICU is nothing but our own “medical charade.”
I want to thank Nancy Valko, who runs an email list covering a range of traditional ethics issues, her email alerting me to this editorial.