Wed, Apr 11, 2012 - Page 8 News List

The increasing cost of saving lives

By Chiang Sheng 江盛

If the incidence of PVS in relation to total population were the same in Taiwan as in the US, Taiwan would have approximately 3,000 PVS patients, but the fact is Taiwan has a 60 percent higher rate of PVS than the US. The chance of any Taiwanese becoming a PVS patient is far greater than for an American. In view of this, while it is a good thing to keep donating to support PVS patients, we also need to think about the medical and social implications.

According to statistics compiled by the Genesis foundation, 62 percent of the PVS patients they care for are in that condition as a result of traffic accidents, and most of those were scooter and motorcycle accidents. Clearly, the widespread use of scooters is the main reason why Taiwan has so many PVS patients. Figures show that nation has the highest rate of scooter ownership in the world, and the most scooters per kilometer of road.

While the legal system demands perfection from doctors, society should also reflect on the heavy price the state pays for its scooter-based transport culture.

At the same time, if the healthcare system gives sole emphasis to how many lives can be saved, without considering quality of life, the result will often be that people’s lives are saved only for them to end up as PVS patients. Doctors have to think long and hard about the rights and wrongs of saving people and leaving them in this condition.

The choice doctors have to make about whether to save a particular patient can sometimes be a very tough ethical decision indeed.

Chiang Sheng is an attending physician in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mackay Memorial Hospital.

Translated by Drew Cameron

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