Short Answer Questions
- Explain the difference between a coma, brain death, and a persistent vegetative state.
- According to McMahon, what are the physical and moral differences between "the death of a person" and "the death of an organism"?
- Give an example that could be viewed as problematic for the claim that if the integration of somatic functions like breathing and digestion can never again be carried out by a person's brain, then that person is dead.
For Further Discussion
- What to do with a persistent vegetative state. McMahon writes: "A living human organism in which all possibility of consciousness has been lost has much the same moral status as a human corpse." (pg.296)
- Do you agree with this claim as it is stated? Explain.
- Can we ever be sure that all possibility of consciousness has been lost?
- Consider a case like Nancy Quizlan or Terry Schiavo. Can we ever be sure enough that a patient will never regain consciousness so as to treat that patient as a corpse?
- (Knocking on wood): Suppose you end up in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), and your family is faced with the decision of whether or not to keep you alive with a breathing device. At what point would you want them to remove the device and let you go? (In considering your answer to this question, you might think about things like: the amount of time you've been in a PVS; the doctor's degree of belief that you will ever recover; the expected state of your cognitive abilities if you were ever to recover.)
- The meaning of death. This week's topic was what it means to be dead. Think about this question as broadly as you can now.
- What are the ways that one might define death? They can be historical, views discussed in the readings and class, or they could be your own ideas.
- Can you think of any convincing examples of the death of a person without the corresponding human organism dying?
- Can you think of any convincing examples of the death of a human organism without the death of the corresponding person?
- The role of the doctor. When Nancy Quinlan's parents asked her doctors why she hadn't been allowed to die yet after the court proceedings were finished, they replied, "You have to understand our position, Mrs. Quinlan. In this hospital we don't kill people." Can a doctor be expected to effectively allow a patient to die? If not, who can be expected to carry out this task?
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