Mind Perception and Willingness to Withdraw Life Support
Discussions of withdrawal of life support often revolve around a patient’s perceived level of suffering or lack of experience. Personhood, however, is often linked to personal agency (e.g., self-control, ability to plan). In the present study, 279 laypeople estimated the amount of agency and experience in hypothetical patients differing in degree of consciousness. Participants also indicated whether they would choose to maintain or terminate life support. Patients were more likely to terminate life support for a patient in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), followed by one with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and in a minimally conscious state (MCS). The decision to maintain life support was reliably predicted by perceptions of a patient’s agency but life support decisions were not significantly predicted by ratings of experience. In sum, decisions regarding maintaining life support are more influenced by perceptions of a patient’s ability to plan and act than by perceptions of a patient’s ability to feel or experience.