Readers React: Sanctity of life vs. quality of life

To the editor: Previously, I wrote in a letter published in The Times concerning the plight of the family of brain-dead teen Jahi McMath that there are “no answers that are going to please everybody” and that concerns over dignity and respect are paramount. Hotly debated SB 128, California’s assisted suicide bill, presents similar bioethical issues. (“Assisted-death bill approved by California Senate,” June 4)

Permitting terminally ill patients to end their lives with prescription drugs presents a plethora of moral and ethical considerations, including distinguishing between “sanctity of life” and “quality of life.” The notion of sanctity of life can be viewed as a basic duty to preserve life and derives from theological perspectives. It considers preservation of life as the highest value.

In contrast, the notion of quality of life applies to circumstances in which the obligation to preserve life may no longer exist. In an effort to reconcile these positions, it is necessary to consider the patient’s purposeful “meaning” and pursuit of his or her life goals.

An overriding concern, a la Jahi and Brittany Maynard, is the conditions under which people live rather than whether they live.


Richard Boudreau, MD, Marina del Rey

The writer is a bioethicist at Loyola Marymount University.

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