When do we lose our human life?


Xavier Symons

The academic conversation over brain death continues, with the American journal of Bioethics publishing a special issue on the status of death determined by neurological criteria (DDNC).

The issue contains 20 articles offering different perspectives brain death. Most of the papers refer a recent legal battle in Texas over Marlise Munoz, a brain dead woman carrying a second trimester foetus.

The papers are highly technical and difficult to summarize in a short post. There are, however, a number of clear themes:

– The academics argue over the philosophical definition of death: is it the cessation of mental processes, the end of what is know as the ‘organism as a whole’, or the end of functions such as respiration, metabolism, and growth?

– They consider whether it is problematic to have a legal definition of death distinct from a ‘real’ (i.e. philosophically justifiable) conception of death.

– They discuss the need for educating medical practitioners and the general public about the legal definition of brain death.

Bioethicist Thaddeus M. Pope says the issue is particularly timely as we may see a number of legislative debates about brain death in the near future.

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Citizens’ initiative calls for right to conscientious objection in health care

Helsinki Times

Over 18,000 Finns have expressed their support for a citizens’ initiative calling for a right to health care professionals to refuse to participate in performing abortions on grounds of personal or religious convictions.

The initiative will be presented to the Parliament for discussion if it accumulates a minimum of 50,000 statements of support. An earlier bill on abortion only received marginal support beyond the ranks of the Christian Democrats. . . . [Full Text]

Medical association vows to protect conscience rights

The Catholic Register

Michael Swan

The Canadian Medical Association has passed a new policy on conscience rights that supports a doctor’s right to choose whether or not to help patients commit suicide in jurisdictions where it may become legal.

“If the law were to change, then we would support the right of physicians to follow their conscience. It (the new policy) doesn’t say we favour a change in the law,” said Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the CMA’s executive director of ethics. The CMA stance opposing euthanasia remains in place. “Our position is still that Canadian physicians should not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide,” Blackmer said. The CMA will come to the defence of doctors who refuse to participate in euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide if the law changes to make those practices legal. . . [Full Text]

Euthanasia clinic reprimanded for death of stroke victim

Dutch News

A special clinic set up to help people whose doctors do not support euthanasia has been reprimanded for failings when it helped an elderly woman who did not want to live in a nursing home to die. The euthanasia monitoring committee said the clinic’s experts had failed to exercise proper care when carrying out their duties. [Full text]

Doctor-assisted death appropriate only after all other choices exhausted, CMA president says


Sharon Kirkey

Doctor-hastened death would only be appropriate after all other reasonable choices have been exhausted, says the head of the country’s largest doctors’ group.

Dr. Chris Simpson, newly installed president of the Canadian Medical Association, made the comments in advance of a landmark Supreme Court of Canada hearing expected to add fuel to the emotional end-of-life debate gaining urgency across Canada.

Simpson said there are enough doctors in Canada willing to perform doctor-hastened death, if the federal ban outlawing euthanasia were lifted.

But doctors first need safeguards to protect the vulnerable and a strategy to urgently shore up palliative care “so that this is not seen as a first, or second or even third choice, but a choice that’s appropriate for people after all other reasonable options are exhausted,” he said. [Full text]

Woman makes own suicide a part of campaign to change law

Sean Murphy*

An 85 year old woman living on Bowen Island, British Columbia, killed herself with a drug overdose in the presence of her husband because she had developing dementia.  She planned to make her death a political statement in favour of the legalization of assisted suicide, writing an extensive blog article explaining her decision and sending a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun for posthumous publication.    Symptoms of dementia were reportedly progressing and she decided to kill herself before the condition became too advanced.  [Vancouver Sun]

Increasing resistance to assisted suicide among U.K. physicians

Daily Mail

Press Association

Fewer than one in five doctors would be willing to help patients end their  lives, according to a new poll. . . . a survey of 600 doctors by the Medix consultancy found that 60 % are  against a change in the law to allow physician-assisted suicide.

This is a rise of 17 points from the last time the same question was asked –  just 43% were against a change in 2004 . . . [See full text at Most doctors oppose assisted dying.]

Baby delivered at 25 weeks gestation in Ireland to avoid death by abortion

Sean Murphy*

News reports indicate that an immigrant woman whom a friend says was raped in her country of origin discovered that she was pregnant after arriving in Ireland.  The friend says that she asked for an abortion when she was eight weeks pregnant, but it is not clear that she was then eligible for the procedure under the new Irish abortion law.  According to the reports, she again asked for an abortion in July, threatening suicide, and was found to be suicidal by a panel of two psychiatrists and an obstetrician.

The Irish Constitution and the Irish abortion law hold that the lives of both woman and child are of equal value, and both must be saved if practicable.  Since the pregnancy was so far advanced, it was decided that the baby should be delivered by Caesarean section, since that would provide the baby an opportunity to survive.  The woman initially refused and refused to take food or fluids.  After medical authorities obtained a court order to rehydrate her she consented to the Caesarean and the baby was delivered at about 25 weeks gestation.  The baby is now apparently in the custody of the state and being supported in a neonatal ward, while the mother is receiving psychiatric treatment.

The case has reignited the abortion controversy in Ireland.



Canadian Medical Association Board of Directors confirms new assisted suicide, euthanasia policy

Sean Murphy*

Two days after it was passed at an Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Medical Association, the CMA Board of Directors approved the following motion:

6.  The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) supports the right of all physicians, within the bounds of existing legislation, to follow their conscience when deciding whether to provide medical aid in dying as defined in CMA’s policy on euthanasia and assisted suicide. (DM 5-6) (Confirmed by the Board of Directors on Aug. 21, 2014) [Source]


Richard Dawkins: ‘Immoral’ not to abort Down’s foetuses

BBC News

Kathleen Hawkins

The Oxford professor posted the message on Twitter in response to a user who wrote she would be faced with “a real ethical dilemma” if she became pregnant and learned that the baby would be born with Down’s syndrome.

“Abort it and try again,” Dawkins tweeted in reply. “It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

His comments have caused anger online and have been dismissed by charities, but he insists his views are “very civilised”, tweeting: “These are fetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings.” . . . [Full Text]