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October 7, 1968

Limits of Medical Responsibility in Prolonging Life: Guides to Decisions

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Anesthesiology, Cook County Hospital and Hektoen Institute, and the Department of Anesthesia, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago.

JAMA. 1968;206(2):389-392. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03150020105050

Today in medicine we have the capacity (1) to sustain vital life functions by artificial means, and (2) to make a composite man by the transplantation of organs. Phenomenal technological and scientific advances in medical science make it possible to prolong threatened life to an incredible degree. An essential question arises, however, as to whether at times we are dealing with true human life.

When the vital functions are maintained, the integrity of the brain and of other organs can be sustained at their particular capacity at the moment of decision, and functional recovery will likely occur and a rational human being restored. Sometimes, the vital organs are irreparably damaged by injury or disease, and recovery or reanimation to a spontaneous level is impossible. Although, we may be able to use extraordinary means to sustain the biological activities of organs and provide the semblance of existence, an integrated spontaneous existing