DEATH, DYING AND THE BIOLOGICAL REVOLUTION: Our Last Quest for Responsibility by Robert M. Veatch


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The Quinlan case has focused attention on the need to determine the individual's rights and responsibilities in matters of life and death. A society blessed (or cursed) with a biological revolution that provides ways of sustaining the comatose, transplanting organs or, alternatively, administering death-promoting agents or withholding treatment, needs guidance in decision-making. Veatch, Director of the Research Group on Death and Dying at the Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences, brings to these complex questions a mind well trained in philosophy, medico-legal ethics, and historical precedents. He has the knack of analyzing attitudes and dissecting laws or proposed policies to reveal their inadequacies, inconsistencies, or potential for harm. Veatch argues persuasively against empowering the medical community, either individually or in the form of Death or Ethics Committees, to make critical decisions. He stoutly defends the patient's right to express his own wishes, either before or at the time of illness. Veatch is opposed to faddist slogans like ""death with dignity"" or ""natural death"" for sound logical reasons. His proposals for legislation concerning patients' rights and organ transplants and his discussions of the definition of death or of patient competence, if not ideal, do avoid the semantic pitfalls, vagueness, or too great specificity of existing terms. This is a difficult, disturbing book, in the way that any honest inquiry into ethics and public policy cannot help but be. But if society is to avoid the contradictions, Catch-22 situations, or ad hoc decisions that currently prevail, such a volume is absolutely necessary and potentially fruitful.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1976
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press