News and Trends

Albrecht: Crafting “Heartless” Public Policy

Thursday’s “Iowa Poll” from The Des Moines Register found 59 percent of Iowans support a so-called “Death with Dignity” law that would allow patients the option of self-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, which was proposed in the Iowa Legislature but quickly fizzled. With that kind of support (only 35 percent oppose the measure), this is an issue that will be coming back in future sessions of the Legislature.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 6.09.08 PMThis effort coincided with a CBS article I recently came across concerning fully manufactured, completely artificial hearts. Currently, there are 2,000 artificial hearts in use worldwide. While they’re not close to becoming your off-the-shelf mainstream product, artificial hearts will be here in our lifetimes and public policy shapers need to be ready.

First, let’s start with the positives of artificial hearts:

  • Heart disease is the number one killer in America. It accounts for 1 in 4 deaths in the United States. 600,000 of our grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers are taken from us every year. Having artificial hearts readily available in hospitals across the country will save countless lives,
  • No more waiting lists. The article notes that 100,000 people need a heart transplant, while 2,500 of the 4,000-strong waitlist actually receive one. Surely we should be able to do better than 2.5 percent.
  • Lower health care costs. Artificial hearts mean fewer ambulance rides, shorter hospital stays, fewer surgeries and less in-patient recovery.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 6.20.39 PMOf course, even with the advent of great news such as this, it will likely be no less controversial. Some things lawmakers need to keep in mind:

  • The definition of life just got more complicated. After 40+ years of arguing about when life begins, a debate will be had about defining when life ends. If you are a fully functioning human being, but your only hope at life is an artificial machine keeping you alive, at what point are you considered deceased?
  • When do individuals and family members decided when to flip the switch to “off” on the heart? More likely than not, this will be decided in living wills. However, people in vegetative states today, kept alive by machines, have given family members agonizing decisions as to when to “pull the plug” due to inaction on their wills. This won’t change. If those hooked up to machines now can’t make the decision, how will cognizant, rational patients be able to decide their own future, which brings us back to…
  • “Death with Dignity.” Right now, people whose bodies are failing them, are in a lot of pain, or wish to prevent further suffering, are held back because no legislation in states like Iowa allows them to safely bring their life to a graceful end. What happens when the life in question…is artificial, in the form of a heart? “Death by Self-Decree” is the next matrix policymakers will need to grapple with.

Whether you are a supporter or opponent of the “Death with Dignity” law, whether you are pro-life or pro-choice – everyone can rally behind the miracle-saving cure of the artificial heart.

As with everything, there won’t be consensus on what to do when artificial hearts are actually here.

The time to prepare is now.

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