Vegetarian for Life

2. Exploring ethical dilemmas in dementia #DementiaActionWeek

Posted by Tom on 14/05/24 in Articles, Life After Retirement

In a thought-provoking examination, the Swedish Ethics Committee opted to serve meat to Oscar, a dedicated vegan grappling with Alzheimer’s, deeming it the optimal solution.

However, an academic paper delves deeper into the complexities surrounding this decision. Exploring various ethical and philosophical angles, the paper offers insights into alternative viewpoints on serving meatballs to Oscar. We caught up with the authors to discuss their research.

Have you ever wondered what might happen to your veg*n diet if your decision-making capacity were in question because of a condition such as dementia?

As we mark Dementia Action Week, we delve into a thought-provoking exploration conducted by moral philosophers, Drs Andrea Lavazza and Massimo Reichlin. Their research, Of Meatballs, Autonomy, and Human Dignity: Neuroethics and the Boundaries of Decision Making Among Persons with Dementia, delves into the complexities of decision-making among individuals facing cognitive decline.

Dr Lavazza told us: “The starting point was a real case we came across in the literature – a Swedish man named Oscar.”

Oscar, once a staunch vegan activist, developed Alzheimer's disease and was eventually admitted to a care facility. As his memory faded, a dilemma emerged when Oscar, by chance, tasted meatballs and expressed a preference for them, contrary to his previous dietary convictions.

Lavazza continued: “And so Oscar realised, maybe for the first time, but we cannot know, that the dishes he was given were different from those of other patients. And from that moment, he refused to eat vegetables.

“The problem for the staff was to decide which decision to make in order to provide Oscar with his meal. Because he had a desire to have meat, but his wife wanted staff to serve vegan meals. This was the dilemma.

“And… we in the paper tried to consider some examples in the scientific and philosophical literature regarding a case similar to this one.”

Navigating this ethical quandary, Lavazza and Reichlin explore various philosophical perspectives, including those of Dresser, Dworkin, and Jaworska.

Dresser suggests listening to what people with dementia want now, but Dworkin thinks only their desires from before the illness matter. Jaworska brings a fresh idea, saying those with dementia might form new interests using what cognitive abilities they have left, which shakes up traditional ideas about autonomy.

Find out more about how the moral philosophers tackled this fascinating quandary in tomorrow’s blog.


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