By: E&P Staff
“If boxer Maggie Fitzgerald wanted to die, all she had to do was ask.” So began an article today about the multiple Oscar-winning film “Million Dollar Baby” by Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter James F. Sweeney.
According to a top ethicist interviewed by Sweeney, the character played by Hilary Swank in the film “didn’t need her trainer, played by Clint Eastwood, to disconnect her respirator and end her life. As a competent adult, she simply could have requested that the respirator be removed and her doctors would have had to comply.”
Many people are unaware of that right, said Dr. Michael Goldrich, chairman of the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs. The AMA policy states: “The principle of patient autonomy requires that physicians respect the decision to forgo life-sustaining treatment of a patient who possesses decision-making capacity.”
Sweeney concludes: “Of course, if the script had followed that policy, then the movie wouldn’t have been as dramatic. Or as controversial.”
But he adds: “Determining competency is often difficult, particularly when the patient is medicated, unable to speak or slipping in and out of consciousness. Health-care professionals must be certain that patients aren’t asking to die because they’re in pain or depressed. … Patients confer with family members, psychiatrists and spiritual advisers before finalizing a decision. Family members sometimes oppose the patient’s wish to die, which complicates the decision.
“But in the end, the doctors must obey the patient.”