December 5, 2022

Are hasty decisions really autonomous?

A spirited debate arose in the US last week over the withdrawal of life support from a recently paralysed hunter.

A spirited debate arose in the US last week over the withdrawal of life support from a recently paralysed hunter. Tim Bowers, a 32-year-old newlywed from Indiana, suffered massive spinal injuries earlier this month after he fell from a tree during a deer hunting expedition. Bowers woke up in a hospital hours later, paralysed from the neck down and reliant on a breathing tube. After being asked by his family, a despairing Bowers asked doctors to remove his breathing tube. He died a few hours later.

Many bioethicists have argued Bowers was unfit to make the decision so soon after sustaining his injury. Arthur Caplan of NYU said, “initially after a terrible injury or a mutilating injury or a terrible burn, pain and disfigurement, everybody is like, ‘I can’t go on.’ Almost a hundred percent say, ‘I don’t want to live like this.” He suggested a cooling off period of a few weeks.

Bower’s sister said that Tim had once said he would never like to live his life in a wheelchair.

Outspoken disabilities activist Robert Anderson dismissed this “advanced directive”. “They never gave this young man a chance, he was not in the right stage of mind to make that type of decision. I always said I’d never want to live my life in a wheelchair either. Than I dove into shallow water at age 21 and broke my neck rendering me a quadriplegic. Life sure isn’t easy but its definitely worth living.”

Xavier Symons
Creative commons
autonomy