Date of Award

Spring 1992

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Coffey, Patrick

Second Advisor

Wreen, Michael

Third Advisor

Starr, William


The advent of new, and usually costly, medical techniques enables the prolongation of life in some very critical cases. These techniques can continue the operation of the human body's respiratory and cardiovascular system when the person's own ability for these functions has failed - even when all other functions, such as self-consciousness and consciousness, have been irreversibly lost. This has generated a great deal of debate among ethicists, health care professionals, and ordinary people about the use of such heroic measures, and about the right to refuse such treatments in certain circumstances. Ethical debates about bioethical dilemmas are no longer confined to the medical or philosophical academic literature, but have become controversial issues treated in the general newsmedia. They have included discussions about the case of Nancy Cruzan (in which the state expressed its interest in keeping the comatose patient alive), the questions raised by the suicide assistance which Dr. Kevorkian provided to some desperate, ill, and suffering individuals seeking to end their suffering, and dilemmas arising when families oppose physicians' judgments and insist on extraordinary treatments for a patient in a persistent vegetative state (e.g., Helga Wanglie). All have sensitized the general public to important questions and issues which require more in-depth consideration and study than they are usually allotted. We have to ask ourselves: What are the underlying questions and issues which cause the differences in opinion and uncertainties about their judgments which people seem to experience in these situations? Confusion about the value and the definition of human life, l think, is at the core of many of these dilemmas and subsequent debates. The aim of this dissertation is to shed some light on these issues and to sharpen our understanding of the two key concepts, namely, human life and value, thereby helping to advance the debate...



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