Terminating Life-Sustaining Treatment of the Demented

Daniel Callahan

in The Roots of Bioethics

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199931378
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980598 | DOI:
Terminating Life-Sustaining Treatment of the Demented

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A growing elderly population, dwindling healthcare resources, and intense and widespread fear of dementia have forced an uncomfortable question: should patients with dementia be slated as off-limits for life-sustaining treatment? How should our own dread of dementia shape the way we care for patients with dementia? Research on dementia has complicated finding any simple answer to those questions. Even the severely demented may still have the rudiments of a self, discernible only by observation of body language and emotional symptoms. We cannot say for certain whether or when a demented person has entirely left the human community. Yet, it is possible to argue that aggressive medical care for the severely demented is likely to bring them no benefit or to say that they should be treated like any other patient. Here our own emotions and biases are likely to come into play. It is hard to access the emotional or cognitive life of the demented, thus inviting projections of our own about what it is like to live such a life. We do, however, know how difficult caring for the demented can be for their family members, and we can without hesitation do what we can to help them.

Keywords: death; Alzheimer’s; symptoms; benefits; personhood

Chapter.  7288 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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