Development of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Means Distinction in the Catholic Tradition


Recent events have sparked a heated debate regarding end of life decisions
and the moral law. Ethical questions surrounding end of life issues are concerns that those most
of us living in the 21st century and beyond will have to face. The bioethical challenge is how to
uphold dignity of human life standards in the face of an improving technology which is capable
of conserving life much longer than in prior years, and of which it is reasonable to think will
greatly improve over time. We are forced, then, to make fundamental moral distinctions about
how aggressive we are to be in prolonging life. Some have adopted a “technological imperative”
viz., that if we can conserve life we must conserve life. But when is enough enough? Is one who
believes in intrinsic human value committed to indefinitely preserving human life in disregard of
other factors?

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