The issue of prolonging the lives of seriously or critically ill patients with an intention of preventing death has not only become a common occurrence in the modern society, but it has also become the point of contention and debate across various societies across the world and even in media. Some people have said that extending the lives of terminally or critically ill patients is bad and thus should be condoned in totality. In order to prevent more suffering and early deaths in chronically ill patients, highly technological and scientific inventions have been used by healthcare providers. The situation in the modern world is whether or not the lives of patients should be extended or prolonged through medical interventions with a view of preventing their deaths. This paper, therefore, examines this issue in detail, while offering reasons why the issue of prolonging life with a view of delaying death should be a decision left to individuals rather than other stakeholders in the society and is aimed at making individuals opposed to such technologies understand why it should be left to the patients. Furthermore, the paper examines why some people are against the use of medical interventions aimed at delaying deaths in critically ill patients, while others advocate clinical and medical measures aimed at delaying death through extension of life using life support devices in Intensive Care Units (ICU’s). This paper addresses genuine concerns of various people who are for and against the issue of prolonging the lives of patients in order to delay death, and finally offers some suggestions as to what should be done (Clausen 2010, p. 15).
Despite the fact that modern advances in medical and medicinal technologies have enabled many lives to be saved, the decision to prolong lives in order to delay deaths in such patients should not be left to healthcare providers alone, but instead it should be a personal decision for the patients. Patients whose bodies are no longer capable of performing vital tasks need to be subjected to artificial nutrition, mechanical ventilators, highly sophisticated resuscitation methods and hydration. However, they should never be forced to do so, but rather it should be their personal decision and resolve. The issue of prolonging life in order to delay death should never be a resolve of the healthcare providers alone, since it has been found that in some cases medical technology has been misused. For instance, gravely sick individuals having no hope of recovery to their initial capacities have been sustained on medical technologies in order to prolong death rather than actually extend their lives. Decisions as to whether or not to use such medical technologies to extend lives should rest with individual patients. Forcefully placing such patients on life support devices and in vegetative states without their approval or consent is actually unfair, since death is in most cases evident (Navasky et al. 2010, p. 30).
Decisions regarding end of life choices which include aggressive resuscitation efforts, support systems, nutrition of comatose patients, and hydration among others should actually be personal decisions. Healthcare providers and patients’ families should be prepared to help patients make crucial decisions, especially in ailments or diseases which are known to cause both progressive generation and prolonged dying processes. The continued sustenance of patients’ lives that are in vegetative states does not only go against their wills and wishes but further causes suffering to such individuals. It is, therefore, prudent that such decisions are left to individual patients before they are in comatose stage to determine their own destiny, especially regarding the issue of prolonging their lives in order to delay deaths. Leaving the decision as to whether or not to extend the lives of critically ill patients to rest with individual patients is not only a respect of human rights but also a respect for individual decisions.
By making the decision as to whether the patient’s life should be prolonged in order to delay death to remain at the discretion of the patient or not, living wills can be signed voluntarily by the patient witnessed by two adults. This will enable the patient to declare that the ailment being suffered from is not only irreversible but also incurable. This will definitely prevent the healthcare providers from administering to the patient any lifesaving measures with intent of delaying death against their will. The certification of the physician responsible for the care of the patient will make such a will to be legal through ascertaining that the condition being suffered from by the patient is not only imminent but death is inevitable. As such, the physician will certify that the use of any death-delaying methods will only be the means of prolonging the process of death (Elliott et al. 2009, p. 700).
Basing on the assumption that death is unnatural and thus should be delayed through the use of technical and medical means, this marks the triumph of man’s achievement on the limitations of nature, death included. The use of medical inventions with a view of prolonging or preserving life in order to delay death becomes a victory for the forces of good that are keen to overpower death through dramatic therapies and elaborate medical technologies. Prolonging life in order to delay death in patients who are critically ill shall, therefore, according to Gustafson (Gustafson, et al, 2007, p. 140) be encouraged since it enables human beings to subdue death to some extent. For instance, the use of Anti-Retroviral Drugs in patients having HIV/AIDS significantly prolongs the lives of such patients, thus making the diagnosis of such diseases not to equate necessarily to a death sentence. Given the fact that scientists and hospitals generally cannot end the lives of patients actively, since they are responsible legally and morally before the patients and the society in general, it is vital that they be allowed to use measures aimed at prolonging the lives of such patients, and thus delaying their early deaths.
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Buddha’s teachings, on the contrary, are against the use of any measures aimed at prolonging the lives of patients with of a view of delaying death. Such teachings have argued that while it is futile for patients to shorten their own lives in order to relieve sufferings and physical pain, it is more futile for healthcare providers to prolong the lives of waning patients through preservation of the rotting body. As such, they argue that natural ways of life and death should be left to take their own course, and thus there is no need for one’s life to be prolonged or shortened through artificial means. However, it is essential to preserve or prolong a patient’s life because at the end of it all benefits will be derived. For instance, a woman who was pregnant was put in the intensive care unit and attached to life support devices. After the birth of the child, the devices were removed and the woman succumbed to death. This is clear evidence that sometimes the end justifies the means (Lazarus 2012, p. 1).
In circumstances where prolonged death promises nothing but mere suffering and endless pain not only to ailing patients their families, friends and healthcare providers, the use of measures aimed at prolonging such lives with a view of delaying death should be stopped. This will enable sick patients to die not only humanely but with dignity.
Lots of arguments have arisen regarding the issue of prolonging life in order to delay death in patients who are critically ill. For instance, Catholics have argued that prolonging of life in order to delay the death of patients is against their Christian teachings, since it is tantamount to humans competing with God. They argue that since God is the giver of life, he should be left to take it when its time is due and thus any attempts to artificially prolong it are morally wrong. The issue of prolonging life in order to delay death in patients is taken not only to be an unacceptable practice but also unethical in nature. Despite the fact that they are against the issue of prolonging death in patients who are terminally ill, they still insist that healthcare providers should not totally neglect the patient, but instead provide nutrition and hydration for the patient to be comfortable during the process of dying. The opposition by the Buddhists and the Catholics towards using life support technologies to extend human life is not in good faith. This is because human life is precious and thus everything should be done in order to prolong it. This will include life support technology aimed at prolonging or extending such lives (Panicola 2001, p. 20).
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Just like in Christianity, the Islamic religion strongly believes that even though saving lives is crucial, the final decision rests with the Almighty God, and thus they do not believe in the idea of prolonging the lives of patients who are in a vegetative state. The Islamic religion, therefore, strongly believes that keeping a patient in a vegetative state using life support devices is not only morally wrong but against their religious teachings. They thus believe that the quality of life is more vital as opposed to the duration of living (McDermid, et al, 2012, p. 1).
Healthcare providers, including nurses, doctors, physicians and others, have argued that prolonging the lives of patients in critical states in order to delay death is a right which each and every one is entitled to. According to them, provision of intensive medical care should be a necessity that is aimed at preventing premature deaths in patients. Available statistics indicate that 80 % of patients who were admitted to the Intensive Care Units (ICU’s) succumbed to death, leaving the percentage of patients who survive to stand at 20%. This is a clear indicator that prolonging of life in patients who are critically ill is not futile at all, since it has greatly helped in enhancing the lives of patients which could have been otherwise prematurely terminated by death. Various case studies conducted have indeed indicated that the provision of early medial care to patients in intensive care units was known to have a positive impact on the general outcome of the patient’s health (Winter et al. 2007, p. 623).
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In order to clear the controversies surrounding the issue of prolonging life of patients and delaying their deaths, it is essential that all stakeholders be made aware regarding this process. Awareness programs and campaigns should be carried out in order to inform the general public on these processes so as to enable them to make informed choices early enough before they are in vegetative states. The significance of technology in prolonging the lives of patients should be fully explained to the public so that they can make informed choices (White, et al, 2006, p. 100).
Despite different views regarding whether life should be prolonged in order to delay death in patients, I generally conclude that there is no harm in patients getting an opportunity to live longer than predicted. This is because in all societies and cultures all over the world they world prefer to have their patients alive rather than dead, regardless of the health status they are in. There have been instances where some patients were taken off life support machines before they were ready to die and in others, people have lost their loved ones against their wishes to remain on life support devices. This therefore calls for a strong need to let the decision of extending the patients’ lives to remain with them before they become vegetative. They will prefer to have their patients alive for as long as possible, while knowing the real fact that they will eventually succumb to death. I, therefore, support the view that any treatment aimed at prolonging patients’ lives is justified, as long as the right to make such a decision is left to individual patients. The decision of prolonging life is, therefore, an individual responsibility for patients who need to know and understand when the time to prolong life is either wrong or right (Winter, et al, 2007, p. 1695).