Can ‘Best Interests’ derail the trolley? Examining withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration in patients in the permanent vegetative state

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Abstract

In this paper, I explore under what circumstances it might be morally acceptable to transplant organs from a patient lacking capacity. I argue, with a developed hypothetical based around a mother and son, that (1) ‘Best interests’ should be interpreted broadly to include the interests that people have previously expressed in the well-being of others. It could, therefore, be in the ‘best interests’ of an unconscious patient to donate a non-vital organ to a family member. (2) Further expanding upon this case, and developing a variation on the ‘trolley problems’ I argue that where it is inevitable that an incapacitous patient is going to die—and specifically when it has been agreed through the courts that a patient in a permanent vegetative state is going to have clinically assisted nutrition and hydration withdrawn (with the inevitable consequence of death, and causing desiccation of the organs such that they are no longer able to be donated)—it could be in a patient's best interests to actively end their life with a drug that would stop the heart both to minimise potential suffering and in order to be able to have vital organs donated. I argue that in this case the strict adherence to the distinction between acts and omissions is not in the patient's best interests and should be reconsidered.

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