Ethics 192 – Euthanasia (extra credit)
The film I chose to watch was “Who’s Life is it Anyway” in which the main character, Ken was an accomplished sculptor and professor at the local college. He possessed an extremely witty, up-beat and vivacious personality and seemed to thoroughly enjoy life. He was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident in which his sports car collided with, and became lodged under, a large tractor-trailer. As a result of the crash he suffered from several life threatening injuries. Ken had sustained a broken neck which rendered him a quadriplegic. In order to be kept alive, Ken had to receive dialysis three times a week and remain under the constant care of a medical team. The film is centered on Ken’s attempt to accept his fate. This was especially difficult for him as his inability to move his hands ended his life as a sculptor, which he perceived as equivalent to not having a life at all. Ken fought for his right to be released from the hospital. Ken’s surgeon Dr. Emerson adamantly denied his release, arguing that it would be unethical because it would have been the cause of Ken’s death.
At the heart of the film lies the interpretation of the concept of life and the right to make choices concerning that life. It demonstrates the extreme polarity of positions on euthanasia as seen through the eyes of the physicians and the man whose life has changed so drastically that he no longer wants to live. Although Ken’s life was saved, the extent of his injuries rendered him a quadriplegic. Ken considered this to be the end of his life as he knew it, and as such the end of his meaning to exist. Ken’s doctors believed that since he was breathing, talking and thinking, that his life still had value. They felt morally obligated to keep him alive, even if it was not his choice.
The fundamental argument in the quality of life vs. sanctity of life debate is the value of life. Ken felt that the quality of his life had diminished enough to warrant euthanasia. He became extremely frustrated because he felt his sexuality had been taken away from him and he had lost the ability to use his hands. This loss effectively ended his ability to express his imagination through sculpting. He was greatly saddened when he accepted this fact as reality. It was at that point that he began transitioning from his usual vivaciousness to a remarkably defeated person without hope.
As physicians, Ken’s doctors were professionally compelled to do no harm to their patients. They also believed in the sanctity of life principle which is based on the idea that all lives are worth living, regardless of quality. Since Ken’s life was dependent on the care he received from the hospital, releasing him would be the equivalent of passive euthanasia.
The film effectively brings to life the emotional struggle that the staff experienced as they grew closer to Ken over the year they spent with him in the ICU. They wanted him to stay alive because they had established genuine feelings for him, but they also realized that he was extremely saddened by the fact that he couldn’t function the way he was accustomed to. The staff also struggled with the decision as to what was truly best for Ken. Of particular interest was the relationship formed between Ken and Dr. Clare Scott. Their initial interactions were strictly that of a doctor / patient relationship. Dr. Scott was all business and her main objective was keeping Ken alive and comfortable. As time passed their relationship progressed from a professional one to a more intimate, caring friendship. This demonstrated the struggle that a real life doctor may encounter when faced with a similar situation. Dr. Scott upheld her professional standards of doing no harm, but she struggled with providing Ken with what she knew he wanted.
Eventually Ken grew tired of being forced to stay in the hospital against his will so he hired a lawyer to help him get released. There