Right to Die; May 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Horgan; 2 Page(s)
When the U.S. Congress passed the Patient Self- Determination Act in 1990, many ethicists hailed it as an important step in the right of patients to choose how they are treated--and how they die. The possibility that the act might reduce health care costs by cutting down on futile and unwanted treatments was seen as an added bonus. It has been estimated that almost 40 percent of all deaths in the U.S. take place following the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments--often from a sedated or comatose patient and after protracted, agonizing indecision on the part of family members and physicians.
The Patient Self-Determination Act was designed to reduce this indecision by giving patients more control over their destiny. It requires hospitals to inform patients and their families--upon a person¿s admission to the hospital--of their legal right to refuse various life-sustaining technologies and procedures through what are called advanced directives. The two most common advanced directives are living wills, in which individuals specify their choices concerning life-sustaining treatment, and documents authorizing a spouse, relative or other proxy to make such decisions, in the event that an individual becomes mentally incapacitated.