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The ethical complexity of the Terry Schiavo case

The ethical complexity of the Terry Schiavo case

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine
Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine,
Ethics and Law at McGill University

Terry Schiavo is dead. The decision about withdrawing her feeding tube turned into a political circus and ideological battleground in which, for many participants, she was the pawn and victim through whom they could score points. Her most important legacy, however, is to show the complexity of decisions about whether a feeding tube on which life depends may be withdrawn. To respond ethically to individuals and to formulate ethical public policy to govern such cases, we must identify and understand that complexity.

Because all of us as babies require someone else to provide us with food and water, withholding them has a special personal impact and also is highly symbolic. We rightly recoil from seeing ourselves as causing people who are dependent on us for the necessities of life to die of thirst or starvation. Indeed, it is a criminal offence not...

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Birth, Death & Technoscience

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine
Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine,
Ethics and Law at McGill University

Searching for Values at the Margins of Life

The Changing Context of Birth and Death 

We humans have always formed our most important values and sought meaning in life by weaving a metaphorical fabric around the two marker events of every human life, birth and death.  Our perceptions of birth, and the values traditionally attached to it, are being challenged and changed, however, by the new technoscience.  The "new genetics" debate is the context in which that is occurring.  There is also a companion debate about euthanasia focusing on the values that should govern death.  While euthanasia is not a new issue, the current debate is of a different order (it is widespread in western democracies) and possibly different in kind (it is based on individual rights) from those in the past.  It is not an accident that we are presently debating both eu-ge...

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