Volume 15, Issue 1, Spring 2015
Rev. Benedict M. Guevin, OSB
Deactivating Pacemakers at the End of Life
The question of whether it is permissible to deactivate a pacemaker at the end of life has been addressed in medical journals but rarely in ethics journals. The ethics of pacemaker deactivation is especially challenging because of the disparate ways the devices are viewed by both medical professionals and patients. Some consider pacemakers replacement therapy, and some consider them substitutive therapy. If they are the former, then deactivation would not be permitted, since a replacement device is considered a part of the body, akin to a new heart. Some ask whether pacemakers are natural or artificial; if pacemakers are artificial, deactivation would be permissible. Another factor is whether a patient is pacemaker dependent. Some medical experts decide the issue of deactivation on the basis of patient autonomy. Others weigh in on whether pacemakers are ordinary or extraordinary means of care. This paper examines each proposal and concludes tentatively that pacemaker deactivation is not permissible at the end of life. National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 15.1 (Spring 2015): 39–51.