Should Alzheimer’s Patients Have The Right-To-Die?

Erik Parens and Josephine Johnston, two scholars from The Hastings Center, recently wrote an article titled: “As Tests to Predict Alzheimer’s Emerge, So May Debates Over the Right to Die (http://healthland.time.com/2011/06/08/as-tests-better-predict-alzheimers-patients-may-contemplate-their-right-to-die/#ixzz1Pvs2A0mc, June 8, 2011).” They noted that although the persona of Dr. Kevorkian (a.k.a., “Dr. Death”) was less than appealing, “Yet he forced us to confront questions that, much as we might want to, we cannot ignore.” For example, are some outcomes, such as the fate of Alzheimer’s patients, worse than allowing those patients the option to end their lives? If the answer is “yes,” then it may appear rather cruel to deny an Alzheimer patient the right to die. Consequently, the authors observe that “It is vitally important for us to explore all of the reasons against allowing or assisting Alzheimer’s patients to end their lives. And it is equally important to begin to explore the reasons on the other side.”

Furthermore, emerging procedures now make it possible to predict Alzheimer’s in an individual. This raises the stakes considerably because individuals who are currently in their right mind can state in advance a right-to-die preference rather than suffering from Alzheimer’s in the future. Parens and Johnston believe that, “Fear should not keep us from trying to imagine whether we can honor the truly informed requests of people who believe that the way of dying that fits best with their understanding of a good life, is to leave before Alzheimer’s fully takes hold.” Indeed, “we have an ethical obligation to face these questions, in solidarity with the millions of individuals and families who otherwise will have to face them alone.”

I do not think we need to be afraid to ask questions or seek solutions. However, I see a couple of problems, not only with the so-called right-to-die alternative, but also with making this option available to Alzheimer’s patients:

1) First, while it may be possible to predict Alzheimer’s in a person, it isn’t possible to foresee whether the individual will truly suffer from the disease. Currently I have a relative with Alzheimer’s. While some may feel pity for this individual, it is my observation that she is generally in a very positive, albeit diminished, state of mind. In reality, she seems downright giddy most of the time. But suppose she was diagnosed in advance with Alzheimer’s and requested the right to die before the disease took hold? In her current state, would the right-to-die continue to be her actual preference? Would she be locked into a decision that was made when she was in a coherent state of mind?

2) Secondly, it seems that we are facing the “perfect healthcare storm” with aging baby-boomers, a gloomy economy, concerns about healthcare allocation, and the lack of concrete moral direction in the field of medicine. According to the National Institute on Aging, “as many as 2.4 million to 5.1 million Americans have AD. Unless the disease can be effectively treated or prevented, the number of people with AD will increase significantly if current population trends continue. That’s because the risk of AD increases with age, and the U.S. population is aging. The number of people age 65 and older is expected to grow from 39 million in 2008 to 72 million in 2030, and the number of people with AD doubles for every 5-year interval beyond age 65. In the years to come, AD is expected to pose physical and emotional challenges for more and more families and other caregivers, in addition to those with the disease. The growing number of people with AD and the costs associated with the disease also will put a heavy economic burden on society.” http://www.nia.nih.gov/nia.nih.gov/Templates/ADEARCommon/ADEARCommonPage.aspx?NRMODE=Published&NRNODEGUID={2D13AE9A-D6EF-4546-9F02-66D3B3CC1453}&NRORIGINALURL=%2fAlzheimers%2f AlzheimersInformation%2f

It would be my fear that end-of-life decisions would be made for Alzheimer’s patients if it was deemed to be in their best interest.

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James Leonard Park
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See another effort to deal with this challenge:
“Merciful Death for Alzheimer’s Patients”:
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/CY-MD-ALZ.html

Susan
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Susan

I think the right to die for the Alzheimers patient lies soley with the Alzheimers patient. My desire is to NOT live unaware — regardless of how giddy I may appear to others. Awareness is what makes us human. I am offended by others who inflict their beliefs and desires upon my rights to die with dignity. I have a living will and I WANT a righ to die contract. If Michael Jackson can go peacefully in his sleep, why can’t I? If Texas can execute deathrow inmates without them “suffering,” why can’t I have that same right? Alzheimers runs… Read more »

James Leonard Park
Guest

I have now revised and renamed the essay above.
It is now called:
Life-Ending Decisions for Alzheimer’s Patients:
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/CY-MD-ALZ.html
And it includes about a dozen safeguards,
the fulfillment of which will make certain
that a chosen death is the best pathway
for a particular patient with Alzeheimer’s disease.
See what you think.

Senior Care Facilities
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Almost 3 years ago, my mother became the victim of Alzheimer disease and now days she is living in senior care facility Denver CO. This is one fact that it is really hard to take care of such patients. I take care of my mother over 6 months, but finally i will have to put her in senior care center and that’s the best thing i could do for mother. Now she is happy.

Assisted Living Facilities
Guest

I think everybody has a right to live, but Alzheimer’s no doubt reach us at the worst period of life. My father also become the victim of Alzheimer disease, we took care of him a lot and never put him in Senior care Centers, especially my mother never allowed us to do so. She took care of him 3 years and now my father is no more. I proud to have a such a great Mom.

Assisted Living Denver
Guest

I think everybody have a right to live, you just need to have soft heart for your loved ones.

Good credit score
Guest

AWESOME! ARTICLE I REALLY LIKED IT.Gave me a new hope to live.