When Vitalism is Dead Wrong: The Discrimination Against and Torture of Incompetent Patients by Compulsory Life-Sustaining Treatment
55 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2010
Date Written: 2004
In some states, case or statutory law prevents patients or their families from declining life-sustaining medical treatment absent clear and convincing evidence that the patient would decide to terminate treatment under the specific circumstances presented. These vitalist laws are premised on the belief that erring on the side of life benefits all citizens. This article argues to the contrary, that vitalist laws can harm the very people they are designed to protect by compelling health care providers to provide medically inappropriate treatment that causes inhumane suffering throughout a prolonged dying process. Focusing on the case of Sheila Pouliot, a 42-year-old woman with profound disabilities, who was effectively tortured as a consequence of court ordered medical care that extended her dying process over the course of months, the article identifies vitalist laws and proposes changes that would prevent states from mandating inhumane, but life-prolonging, medical treatment.
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