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Bridges panel explores dilemmas of death and dying

By Annalise Kinkel

March 1, 2006

With respirators, feeding tubes and advancements in drug treatments, dying in America can be prolonged, expensive, confusing and complicated.

To address these challenges, Bridges to the Future hosted "Ethical Dilemmas and End of Life Decisions: Extending Life, Accepting Death" on Feb. 21 at the Newman Center.

The symposium approached the topics of death and health care through a panel discussion with Jean Kutner, physician and associate professor at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center; former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, co-director of DU's Institute for Public Policy Studies; Sturm College of Law Professor Julie Nice; and Rabbi David Teutsch, a bioethicist of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Biology Associate Professor Susan Sadler moderated the dialogue.

In opening remarks, Kutner, who specializes in geriatric and palliative care, stressed the importance of considering patients' "goals and preferences for end of life."

Lamm followed with direct criticism of the nation's current system and proposed cutting health care costs by limiting health care for the terminally ill and elderly. This, he said, would open up resources for the disadvantaged, who currently have little or no access to medical care because they don't have insurance.

"America has the most unethical health care system in the entire developed world," he said.

Nice said recent Supreme Court rulings have left many end?of-life decisions in the hands of Congress and state governments, leaving the U.S. with 50 different health care systems.

Teutsch focused on ethical and religious concerns, emphasizing the dual beliefs that all people are created in the image of God and that death is an inevitable part of life.

When asked how the panel defined quality of life, Teutsch said, "The simplest way to define quality of life is what is quality to one person is living hell to another."

The event concluded with more questions and few solutions.

"I don't know what the answers are, but these are the right questions," Lamm said.

The event was part of the 2005-06 Bridges lecture series, "Science, Technology and Values." The next Bridges event, "The Death of Environmentalism and the Birth of New Aspirational Politics," will be on April 25.

This article originally appeared in The Source, March 2006.