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The ethics of dying with dignity

by Sandra Hercegova November 3, 2015
The ethics of dying with dignity

Concordia hosted a medical ethics conference

At the Loyola Conference Centre on Thursday, Hazel Markwell—who worked in clinical ethics for over 20 years and is now the director of the St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto—tried to define what exactly dying with dignity really means.

Hazel Markwell, expert in clinical ethics, presenting at the  Loyola Public Lecture Series on Ethics in Society. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

Hazel Markwell, expert in clinical ethics, presenting at the Loyola Public Lecture Series on Ethics in Society. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

The was the latest conference of the Loyola Public Lecture Series on Ethics in Society which covered the ethics of physician assisted suicide, euthanasia and terminal palliative sedation.

The lecture series was hosted by Concordia’s Advancement and Alumni Relations and the Department of Theological Studies.

Markwell said the problem is that as a society we often disagree when it comes to ethical issues.  “Ethics is all about decisions, studying values and about the right and the wrong,” she said. “We have different notions of the good and our values vary greatly. The way each person views wrong from right varies as well.”

She said it is important to recognize how interconnected we are as humans before we can start rationalizing physician assisted deaths. “Conscience is an innate, universal aspect of the human being and that is why issues of conscience are important in this discussion,” said Markwell.

Markwell then asked the audience to close their eyes and to think of only three things that they need to make life meaningful.  Then, take one away. Would life still be meaningful? Now, take another one away.  “This is what dying people in intensive care are experiencing,” she said.

Markwell also spoke about the two principle goals of medicine: caring and curing and relief of suffering.  She believes people should change their concept of health and life.

In her talk, Markwell covered three methods in assisted suicide for patients in intensive care.  First, physician assisted suicide, which is when a physician is authorized to help the patient commit suicide. The second is euthanasia,  which is when a dose of lethal injection is given at request. Finally, there is terminal palliative sedation which is when the doctor makes the patient become unconscious in order to stop them from feeling pain.

When dignity is concerned, what is the best solution for the patient? This is a question Markwell said the medical community is still struggling with.

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