FHC #115: The bioethical dilemma of saving life ‘at any cost’

The 21st century has granted humanity incredible access to medications and procedures that can extend life almost indefinitely. Ventilators can breathe for us, intravenous tubes and pumps can nourish us, and hemodialysis machines can filter waste and excess water from our blood, all but replacing healthy kidneys.

The fact that medicine can extend human lives almost indefinitely is considered by many to be a great scientific achievement. Still, many doctors feel beset by the gifts they’ve been given. In the ever-distressing, noise-polluted, sick-care environment of today’s hospital, it’s not clear whether patients nearing the end of their lives are being treated or tortured. So, how should our nation define “life?”

Welcome to season nine of Fixing Healthcare with cohosts Dr. Robert Pearl and Jeremy Corr. Things are about to get emotional and philosophical. In this and future episodes, guests will tackle the difficult topic of death. Although it is a complex and uncomfortable subject, listeners will have the opportunity to learn from world experts regarding the ethical, legal and medical decisions that surround end-of-life care.

This season’s first guest is Dorothee Caminiti, the director of the bioethics program at the Makkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. She works at the intersection of digital ethics in healthcare and law, and focuses on the ethical problems associated with personalized medicine and the processing of health-related data. She received her master’s degree in bioethics from Harvard University.

In this episode, Caminiti discusses:

  • Whether doctors should “save a life at any cost”
  • How the Terri Schiavo case influenced our nation’s views on end of life
  • What are the rights of patients in terms of the “right to die”
  • The purpose of advanced directives in medicine
  • How ethics committees define “life” in medical disputes
  • Weighing the input of doctors, patients and families
  • The ethics of medical aid in dying laws
  • Lessons from around the world about end-of-life care

Tune in for the full interview and join the conversation on social media.

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Dr. Robert Pearl is the author of a book about medicine’s invisible yet highly influential physician culture. Check out “Uncaring: How Physician Culture Is Killing Doctors & Patients.” All profits from the book go to Doctors Without Borders.

Fixing Healthcare is a co-production of Dr. Robert Pearl and Jeremy Corr. Subscribe to the show via Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you find podcasts. Join the conversation or suggest a guest by following the show on Twitter and LinkedIn.