Hastening Death to Avoid Prolonged Dementia

By Norman L. Cantor

The scourge of Alzheimer’s is daunting. For me, the specter of being mired in progressively degenerative dementia is an intolerably degrading prospect. One avoidance tactic — suicide while still competent — risks a premature demise while still enjoying a tolerable lifestyle.

The question arises whether an alternative tactic — an advance directive declining all life-sustaining intervention once a certain point of debilitation is reached — might be preferable as a device to avert a prolonged, unwanted limbo.

In the past, I’ve sketched my thoughts on this topic on Bill of Health.

My article forthcoming in the Hastings Center Report (HCR) elaborates on the legal and moral foundation for my advance directive declining even simplistic interventions at a relatively early stage of post-competence cognitive decline.

It is titled “On Avoiding Deep Dementia,” and the cite is 48:4 Hastings Center Report (July/August 2018).

Hastings Center solicited three commentaries on my article from several bioethicists, including Rebecca Dresser and Daniel Sulmasy. Those commentaries appear in the same edition.

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About Norman Cantor

Norman Cantor is Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus at Rutgers University School of Law, Newark. He taught in the fields of Constitutional Law, Contracts, and Bioethics (Death, Dying, and the Law). He has been widely published in legal and medical journals on the topic of the legal handling of dying medical patients. His books are: After We Die: The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver (2010); Making Medical Decisions for the Profoundly Mentally Disabled (2005); Advance Directives and the Pursuit of Death with Dignity (1993); and Legal Frontiers of Death and Dying (1986). Professor Cantor is a cum laude graduate of Princeton University and a magna cum laude graduate of Columbia Law School where he served as Notes and Comments Editor of the Columbia Law Review. He has served as a visiting professor at Columbia University, Seton Hall University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv University. He currently divides his time between Hoboken, N.J., and Tel Aviv.

One thought on “Hastening Death to Avoid Prolonged Dementia

  1. We will never truly be a free society until we are free to choose life or death. There is no freedom more basic, none more important. It is the ultimate freedom.

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