March 2006. When discussions about end of life treatments come up, people will often say something like this: "I don't want to be a burden to anyone. No tubes for me. I just want to go quickly and peacefully." People are attracted by technology and what it offers when they are sick, but they also have fears about it when they are in a weakened or vulnerable state. They imagine becoming trapped in a situation where they aren't allowed to die but are held in a kind of suspended animation by machines. They also worry that their pain may not be managed well. Sometimes they may feel pressure from family members that they shouldn't "stick around" too long. These kinds of fears and concerns, however, need to be scrutinized carefully, because they can prompt us to act rashly and think unclearly when it comes to making concrete treatment decisions.
In making end of life decisions, the important question is whether a proposed treatment is likely to be ordinary or extraordinary. Ordinary treatments are required as part of our duty to take care of our health. Extraordinary treatments, on the other hand, are optional. The process of weighing whether a treatment is ordinary or extraordinary was concisely summarized back in 1980 in a passage from the Vatican's Declaration on Euthanasia: