End-of-life care in the 21st century: Advance directives in universal rights discourse

Bioethics 24 (3):105-112 (2010)
This article explores universal normative bases that could help to shape a workable legal construct that would facilitate a global use of advance directives. Although I believe that advance directives are of universal character, my primary aim in approaching this issue is to remain realistic. I will make three claims. First, I will argue that the principles of autonomy, dignity and informed consent, embodied in the Oviedo Convention and the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, could arguably be regarded as universal bases for the global use of advance directives. Second, I will demonstrate that, despite the apparent consensus of ethical authorities in support of their global use, it is unlikely, for the time being, that such consensus could lead to unqualified legal recognition of advance directives, because of different understandings of the nature of the international rules, meanings of autonomy and dignity which are context-specific and culture-specific, and existing imperfections that make advance directives either unworkable or hardly applicable in practice. The third claim suggests that the fact that the concept of the advance directive is not universally shared does not mean that it should not become so, but never as the only option in managing incompetent patients. A way to proceed is to prioritize work on developing higher standards in managing incompetent patients and on progressing towards the realization of universal human rights in the sphere of bioethics, by advocating a universal, legally binding international convention that would outlaw human rights violations in end-of-life decision-making.
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