I think this raises an interesting philosophical question that seems never to be discussed.
I suppose because it may seem like one of those ethical questions such as, If all you can do with regard to an accident about to happen on train tracks is to throw a switch, in which case these people die, whereas if you do nothing, those people die, so what would you do?
But let’s look into it anyway.
To make the general concept clearer, let’s move ourselves somewhat in the future and assume that just as medicine has progressed to where we now have care that may well cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or sometimes even over one million, by this future date there will be yet more advanced care that may cost $10 million or more.
In today’s dollars.
At this future time, most people don’t earn say $2 million total over their entire lives.
So, let’s say that for a typical end-of-life case, treatments exist where $10 or $20 million of medical expenditures for a say 85 year old who today would die at the point in question, can have two more months in the ICU on the deathbed. In some pain, and little consciousness, but hey, another two months of life.
Now the person does not have the $10 million or $20 million. And he didn’t choose to buy insurance that would cover that, and indeed the premiums – if the insurance company was not to go bankrupt – would have had to be higher than his entire salary, as at this future date pretty much every person about to die can get another couple of months in the ICU for this kind of expenditure.
So the person can’t pay for it.
Does this really mean that the entire life incomes of 5 or 10 other people should be forcibly taken to go towards another 2 months in the ICU for this 85 year old?
If this is a routine situation applicable to most as they reach the point where, with today’s medicine, they would ordinarily die, this would mean that about 100% of the income produced in the country would be going towards the last 2 months or whatever of end-of-life health costs.
The entire economy, or as near to it as possible, would need to be devoted to the sole purpose of providing these added two months in the ICU for each person as they reach the end of their life. No one would have anything for themselves but bare subsistence after the needed taxes were paid: the beneficiary of a person’s productivity would not be himself or his family, but these end-of-life patients. Getting an extra 2 months on the deathbed in exchange for 5-10 other people being, essentially, slaves for life to pay for it.
So, if such treatments become available at such a price, should others be forced to pay for them? Are such treatments really a “right” of the dying in the situation described?
Before continuing, let’s just leave it at these questions.