Posted on February 15, 2016 at 10:43 PM
On this Presidents Day, the United States finds itself in the midst of a heated presidential campaign. Both major parties are holding state-by-state elections to identify who will be the candidates for the November election. There are lots of issues being discussed—taxes, national security, immigration, etc.—sometimes at a dizzying and confusing pace. One issue noticeably absent from the discussion: bioethics. Outside the predictable back and forth over abortion, not much mention has been made of bioethical issues. However, in a February 3 CNN Democratic Town Hall, a voter who identified himself as suffering from cancer asked Hillary Clinton an important bioethical question: “. . . I wonder what leadership you could offer within an executive role that might help advance the respectful conversation that is needed around this personal choice that people may make, as we age and deal with health issues or be the caregivers of those people, to help enhance and — their end of life with dignity” (http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/03/politics/democratic-town-hall-transcript/).
After thanking the questioner, Mrs. Clinton responded, “And I have to tell you, this is the first time I’ve been asked that question . . . [W]e need to have a conversation in our country.” I agree. Wouldn’t it be good to know where the candidates stand on this and other bioethical issues, or at least be able to describe how they would approach it? Unfortunately bioethical topics do not lend themselves to brief, canned responses or to 30-second attack ads. Yet physician assisted death will continue to be part of our bioethical discussion for the foreseeable future. I am glad Mrs. Clinton was asked this question. We can only hope that the other presidential candidates will face similar inquiries.