Lecture thinks critically about end of life

By Louis Arias
In Motion Staff Writer

The world through the eyes of academia doesn’t necessarily correspond to reality.

This disconnect became palpable to Assistant Professor of Philosophy James A Dunson III when he realized that the discussions in his medical ethics classes at Xavier University of Louisiana did not correspond to the dilemmas that patients in hospice, facing end of life decisions, were confronting.

A first public discussion of the results of his ongoing work in this area was presented at a special speaking engagement at the Madorsky Theater at the end of October.

The Terri Schiavo’s right-to-die legal case in Florida dragged out 15 years and almost created a constitutional crisis between the courts and the executive branch. This past July 29, when Baby Charlie died after his parents lost their final legal bid to take him to the United States for treatment, the world was watching. End of life issues are becoming more relevant as the nation’s healthcare system addresses the “silver tsunami” prompted by technological advances allowing people to live longer while Baby Boomers crowd the ranks of the elderly population.

In 2014, Brittany Maynard became the face of the right-to-die debate in the United States.  At age 29 she learned she had aggressive brain cancer.  Maynard moved to Oregon with her family to take advantage of that state’s Death with Dignity Law. She ended her own life on Nov. 1 that same year. Three days later, the Vatican condemned her decision.

One of Dr. Dunson’s most interesting revelations was that in the U.S., physician-patient conversations about end of life are practically non-existent.  He told the DSC audience doctors don’t have the training or the inclination to do so. “When I asked my favorite physician why he was retiring from the hospital he told me that he was only allowed to speak 6 minutes with his patients and end of life conversations were not permitted. ”

The audience’s active participation in the discussions explored complicated issues such as euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, informed consents, differences between palliative, continuous and terminal sedation, considerations regarding the Hippocratic oath, and the inevitability of cultural and religious influences in right to die debates.

Dr. Dunson subscribes to the opinion that under special circumstances, physician assisted suicide should be morally and legally permissible. He will explain the rationale for this position in his upcoming second book.

Dr. Jared Rothstein, Chair of DSC’s Critical Thinking Institute, issued the invitation for the doctor to speak at DSC.

“Dr. Dunson’s speaking engagement was our fall semester’s special event. Our flagship program is an annual professional development series for faculty and staff in the spring,” he said.

The Critical Thinking Institute at Daytona State is open each semester to 15 applicants. To “graduate” from the program, participants must attend the CTI Orientation session during the first week of planning before the start of the semester.  In addition, they attend  six workshops, review assigned materials and discuss via Falcon Online discussion boards and present a capstone project to the workshop attendees, facilitators, and other interested parties during a semester planning session.

Deadline for the spring semester is Dec. 7. For information about this professional development program or CTI in general, please contact Dr. Rothstein at rothstj@daytonastate.edu or 506-3173).