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Can One Sibling Pull the Plug If the Others Don’t Want To?

And five other vexing medical-ethics dilemmas, examined.


Illustration by Jeffrey Decoster  

Doctors like to think of themselves as men and women of science: Assess the symptoms, order the tests, make a diagnosis, and administer the treatment. The modern world is making that model more complicated. Political debates about abortion and assisted suicide and technological advances that allow doctors to artificially extend life are posing all kinds of new ethical dilemmas. To address these modern issues, most major New York hospitals have created an on-staff ethics team made up of physicians, bioethicists, social workers, chaplains, and legal experts. These teams work with patients and families to help understand a prognosis, navigate treatment options, and act as mediators in oftentimes highly stressful life-and-death situations. To get a sense of what sorts of ethical problems patients and doctors are now facing, New York identified six real cases from city hospitals representing a variety of issues and asked a panel of ten medical ethicists affiliated with local hospitals, medical schools, and medical think tanks to weigh in.

Kenneth A. Berkowitz, M.D.
Associate professor at NYU School of Medicine and chief of ethics consultation for the Veterans Health Administration
Nancy Berlinger, Ph.D.
Deputy director at the Hastings Center
Nancy Dubler, Esq.
Director of the division of bioethics at Montefiore Medical Center
Loren Wissner Greene, M.D.
Associate professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine
Navah Harlow, M.A.
Founding director of the Center for Ethics in Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center
Deborah Korzenik, Esq.
Member of the ethics committees at Beth Israel Medical Center and Long Island College Hospital
Mary McCabe, R.N.
Chair of the ethics committee at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Kathleen E. Powderly, Ph.D.
Acting director of the division of humanities in medicine at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center
Rosamond Rhodes, Ph.D.
Director of bioethics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Dan Sulmasy, M.D., Ph.D.
Chair of the ethics department at St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan and a Franciscan friar

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