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Moral Dilemma: Should I Pull The Plug?

By Conscious Owl | Inner Peace

Jun 02
pulling the plug life support

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me.

Psalm 23

At some point in your life, you may face a messy predicament that you will be morally obliged to resolve, despite your overwhelming desire to escape it. You will be placed in the position of deciding, not your own, but another’s, fate, one whom you truly love.

Let’s say your father is critically ill, and has fallen into a coma with less than one-percent chance of recovery. You never liked discussing this type of thing with him, so you don’t have a good reading on his express wishes. The daily hospital bills are devouring his estate and about to eat you alive. He told you a few months back that he had a good life and loved you very much.

The attending nurse and physician consult with you on what should be done, since you are next of kin. They ask you if he signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate agreement). To the best of your knowledge, he did not. They suggest your father could go on that way for months. When do you choose to remove life support?

Academically, this is one thing. Clinically, it is quite another. Are your ready to pull the plug on the very man who conceived you, who throughout his entire life did everything he could to make you happy?​

What Is a Moral Dilemma?

A moral dilemma is any predicament where you are presented with two distasteful alternatives, neither of which is acceptable to you. You may be obliged to choose between the lesser of two evils. Typically, you are pressed for time and must reach a decision that has great consequences for yourself and others.

moral dilemma definition

You look into all the rulebooks, but nothing is written in black and white. You are awash in shades of gray. You wrack your brain to see if there is anyone to whom you can pass the buck, but no one shows up. You genuinely want to do the right thing, but you don’t have a clue.

You keep negotiating for more time. You reach out to friends and family for guidance, but your priorities are not their priorities. You just don’t have enough information to reach a rational decision. In the end, you must simply choose. You do what you do, and you don’t do what you don’t do.​

Pulling the Plug: The Legal Options

When people face death and are in great pain, or they have definitely expressed a will to die, the federal government has little to say. State governments take varying positions.

Pulling the plug applies to cases where people are being kept on life support, without which they would almost certainly die in short order.​

“Do Not Resuscitate” applies to people who are close to death. Hospitals will often implant tubes in the nose and mouth and artificially keep them from dying, regardless of the discomfort.​

everyday moral dilemmas

Assisted death applies in the few states that legalize this. A patient, after careful consultation, has advised his physician that he would like to die. With his consent, the medical doctor offers poison pills that will quickly bring about the patient’s demise. It is all up to the patient to take the pills and swallow them. If they do, the attending staff will do everything in their power to make the transition as painless as possible.

Lethal injections are outlawed in no uncertain terms. They apply only to states with capital punishment. It is considered a relatively painless way to die, as opposed to a firing squad, hanging, a gas chamber or an electric chair. However, medical use of lethal injections is under vigorous debate. This would be where the medical doctor directly seizes the initiative in bringing about the death of a patient.​

The Ethical Side of a Moral Dilemma

For generations, physicians took the Hippocratic oath before entering their practice, which promises never to use medicine to bring harm to another. To bring about death to a patient goes against every single impulse of a good doctor. He is thoroughly trained to do everything humanly possible to keep his patient alive. If the patient dies on him, he typically considers it a moral and professional failure.

Western religion comes down emphatically against causing death to another human being. The Ten Commandments enjoin, “Thou shalt not kill.” The Sermon on the Mount directs us to “Do unto others that which you would like done unto you.” This is rarely applied to plants and animals; it is interpreted to mean, Do not murder.”

The Western philosophic and religious traditions oppose suicide, supposing that human beings don’t have the right to take the very life that was given to them. The commitment is to mitigate pain whenever possible, but to let nature take her course. As Werner Erhard once put it regarding suicide: “You don’t have permission.”

Reaching Out to Others

Having friends and relatives, along with myself, undergoing such moral dilemmas, it absolutely works to gather the thoughts and opinions of those we can count upon, whether or not we agree.

pulling the plug discussions

When a loved one is nearing his or her demise, it may be appropriate to take your friend out for a few drinks and let him get it all off his chest. One is typically under a great deal of pressure and highly distracted, needing context and comfort in order to move forward.

Very often chaplains and clergy, who are trained to advise and console people in these kinds of situations, are invaluable. I can tell you from personal experience that not all of them are moralistic. Most often, they are very good listeners, helping you sort out your own feelings, making positive suggestions, and give you constructive suggestions.​

Saying Goodbye to My Sister

Recently, my elder sister, under disability for decades and living in a group home, began to decline in health, becoming progressively thinner, even though she ate well. On top of this, she became demented, losing her memory to the point of finding it difficult to speak, because she lacked the words. She even deteriorated to the point where she could no longer recognize me.

Her caretaker, who had become like a mother, suggested we take her to hospice care. While I was reluctant at first, the hospice facility had it totally together. When signing the required documentation, I had to decide whether or not to resuscitate my sister in the face of terminal illness. My sister was taken to a long-term care facility essentially to die.

We immediately prepared for the worst, and began planning her memorial service and funeral. Ironically, my sister got better for a while and actually held out for nine months. Her caretaker, who knew my sister far better than I ever did, visited her weekly. When my sister rapidly declined, the facility was frantic to have me intubate her. Her caretaker and I held to our original decision to allow her a natural transition.​

Dr. Eben Alexander: Resurrection from a Coma

A prominent, secular neurosurgeon on the East Coast lived a successful middle-class lifestyle with wife and kids. Dr. Alexander went to Jerusalem and inadvertently contracted a strange virus there. He was OK for a while, but then suddenly declined into a deep coma.

Dr. Alexander’s family and friends were shocked. Since he was widely loved and still only in his midyears, they kept a continuous vigil in his hospital room for an entire week. He was practically brain-dead. If he ever recovered, he would remain a vegetable all his life. On the seventh day, Dr. Alexander’s son cried out to him, as the family was considering withdrawing life support. Dr. Alexander flinched. That was enough.

Dr. Alexander eventually recovered his memory and all his mental faculties. His daughter encouraged him to write down his Near Death Experience, which became the bestseller, Proof of Heaven.

Dr. Alexander had visited another world, which seemed even more real than this, with gorgeous forests and waterfalls. He heard rapturous music, more exquisite than anything he had ever imagined. He even met his young, long-lost sister who had passed away much earlier without his knowledge. His lovely sister acted as a guide throughout the journey.

Dr. Alexander has devoted the rest of his life to let the whole world know that there is life after death, it is truly glorious, all is forgiven and Whom and What we call “God” is Absolute Love.

The Spiritual Side of a Moral Dilemma

Several years back, I, myself, went into the hospital for an operation. My stay was extended for a couple of weeks. I had the very strange experience of being surrounded by love, even before the procedure. Afterward, I had the good fortune to be transported to a first-class intensive care unit, and to experience love from everyone who attended me. My true friends were also totally there for me, so I never felt abandoned.

During that memorable visit, I encountered a type of love that I consider absolute, which resonates with Dr. Alexander’s experience. While I was not in a coma, that love continued for hours and days. God was never more present to me, and inwardly spoke to me on an almost continuous basis.

I got very clear that the divine love and presence are not dependent in any way upon circumstances.​

The divine love and presence are not dependent in any way upon circumstances.

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If we look at life as a school for divinity, we begin to realize that all the dilemmas we encounter are means for us to grow in wisdom and compassion. As Dr. Deepak Chopra puts it, we are gods and goddesses in embryo. We are being brought into the image of the Avatar, the Bodhisattva and the Messiah.

Finding Peace with the Universe

You may go through any number of moral dilemmas in your lifetime. Don’t worry. They are there to help you grow.

All that is required of you is a willingness to do the right thing, and openness to guidance.

Every one of us is at all times doing what we genuinely think is the best thing to do under the circumstances. Our Source simply doesn’t keep points. All is forgiven.

You will find that when you open up and channel your Creator, you need no longer trouble yourself. You will start to listen and to trust the Inner Voice. You will always go with your gut. Like a pilot cutting through the storm and arriving at the Eye of the Hurricane, you will experience an indescribable peace that no one and nothing can ever take away from you.​


About the Author

One conscious owl to another... sharing what we learned over the years, and from many wise owls before us.