Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bioethics Centers Celebrate Anniversaries

Rosemary Flanigan
June 2, 2009

We at the Center for Practical Bioethics just celebrated our 25th anniversary, and lo and behold! when the Hastings Center Report arrived this week-end, that venerable institution is celebrating its 40th!! So the 2009 issue reflects on the four ethical problems addressed 40 years ago: ethics and population, behavior control, the evolution of death and dying controversies, and deciphering genetics. And we’re STILL addressing them!

Robert M. Veatch (the first “employee” at Hastings Center) reflects on the death and dying controversies. One of the first task forces at the center was to disentangle the definition of death from decisions to forgo life support. But the task wasn’t an easy one and he thinks the brain-people and heart-people are mired in even more complexity today in their attempts to define death.

So, too, with forgoing life support or “allowing to die.” Even with federal legislation allowing us to refuse life-prolonging treatments, the questions that arise over appropriate surrogates, futile treatments, and resource allocation led the present staff to return to the Hastings Center’s early Guidelines on the Termination of Life-Sustaining Treatment to revise and update them in order to provide further assistance with these more nuanced issues.

It looks as if ethics centers will not be running out of things-to-do for quite some time!

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