There’s a thoughtful piece in today’s Huffington Post on end-of-life considerations looking at the heart-wrenching stories of Jahi McMath and Marlise Munoz. “Death Has Become a Choice” by Rev. Kevin William Wilde, president of Loyola University, discusses the fundamental questions these cases raise about how we understand death.
He lays out the stories of how McMath and Munoz came to be brain-dead, and the different situations that led their bodies to be alive on ventilators. McMath’s family seeks a miracle to bring her back to life.
Munoz’s husband and parents want to allow her to die a natural death, but the hospital in Texas is keeping her body functioning because she’s pregnant. Texas law restricts the ability of doctors to end life support for terminally ill pregnant women, regardless of the wishes of the patient or the family. Rev. Wilde writes:
This brings us to another ethical question that needs to be asked, but rarely is in America. What about the cost of care in these cases? In the United States, we pay for health care through either public or private insurance pools. Most experts would estimate the cost of the care received by brain-dead patients to be about $7,500 a day. Many people are contributing to their care. In a world of limited resources, which is the world we live in, how resources are used is an ethical question. It is a question of stewardship. And, in a world of limited resources, every determination of where we use our resources is also an implicit decision not to use them elsewhere.
The long-term tragedy is that we will continue to see cases like this. As medical technologies develop and advance, we will be able to do more to sustain life. It is imperative that we recognize what we are doing and why. In the evolution of modern medicine, death has become a choice. And those choices come with important moral responsibilities.
There’s another great opinion piece on the Munoz situation, by Frank Bruni in the New York Times titled “The Cruelest Pregnancy.” A few of his words from that op-ed:
Is her fate really what we mean when we speak of “valuing life” or “the sanctity of life,” to summon two phrases tossed around too quickly and simplistically? It seems to me that several lives are being devalued in the process, and that while there are no happy outcomes here, there’s also no sense or dignity on the chilling road that this Texas hospital is taking us down.
Medical technology is blurring the lines between life and death. How can we say what is right in either of these situations?