Science and technology have brought us to the point where in some respects we can play God. As the magic of medical science becomes ever more able to overcome the course of nature, do we need to take a closer look at when we simply allow nature to take its course?
It seems inhuman to suggest that we should do anything other than everything in our power to save or prolong the life of another human being, but since visiting my Grandmother in hospital I’ve found myself questioning the moral dilemma of whether or not keep someone alive when nature may otherwise have already given them their last breath.
The law, being what it is, appears unwilling or perhaps unable to address the issue. Cases vary depending on circumstances and while it could easily be argued that someone who today wants to commit suicide might be happy to be alive tomorrow, it becomes a much harder question when one looks at those who spend the last days of their lives hooked up to machines that in prolonging their lives, only prolong the significant, and in some cases, unbearable pain that person is in.
The subject becomes even more emotive when infants are the subject of the question. Premature babies, that in previous times might have died, are now able to live thanks to huge advances in medical technology. But while we would all agree that keeping a baby alive is of course the right thing to do, could it not be argued that we have advanced to such an extent that we are now meddling with nature itself?
Certainly, when one makes a so-called 'pro-life' argument about when life begins, it wouldn't be hard to argue that we're using the much the same power to sustain a life that might otherwise have not continued had it not been for our profound intervention.
On my trip to India in 2004, I was urged not to drink any water or eat any food offered to us by the people of the rural villages we were visiting. Their water supply would most likely have been filled with parasites that would have made me sick, yet they were able to drink it and prepare food using it.
Of course, water-born diseases claim huge casualties in undeveloped countries, but it’s probably fair to say that my tolerance level of that water was probably not at all as well developed as the locals. I’ve been lucky enough to drink clean water all my life, and here I was in a situation where that good fortune might put me at a higher risk of falling ill should I drink unclean water.
Medical advancements will continue of course, but as we learn how to prolong human life longer shouldn’t we also be thinking about the moral and ethical implications of that?
Isn’t it conceivable that there will be more cases of people who are terminally ill but able to be kept alive by doctors who are duty-bound to do so?
Whenever my friends and I talk about getting old I always joke that I will live until I’m 120 years old, and to be honest I’d quite like to. However, I say that from a position of youth, but the truth is, I don't want to live far into my golden years if that means existing in a debilitated state where death is being beaten back from the door by medicines that keep me alive but do nothing to address the quality of life I am living.