¿Se debe prolongar la vida a cualquier costo?

PRINCETON – A la neumonía se le solía llamar la “amiga del anciano”, porque a menudo traía una muerte rápida e indolora a una vida cuya calidad ya era mala y habría seguido empeorando. Ahora, un estudio llevado a cabo en pacientes con demencia severa en asilos de ancianos del área de Boston muestra que a la “amiga” se le combate frecuentemente con antibióticos. Esas prácticas plantean la pregunta obvia: ¿estamos tratando enfermedades de manera rutinaria porque podemos o porque debemos hacerlo?

El estudio, llevado a cabo por Erika D’Agata y Susan Mitchell, y recientemente publicado en los Archives of Internal Medicine , demostró que a lo largo de un período de 18 meses, dos terceras partes de los 214 pacientes con demencia severa recibieron tratamientos de antibióticos. La edad promedio de esos pacientes era de 85 años. En la Prueba de Incapacidad Severa, en la que las calificaciones van de cero a 24, tres cuartas partes de esos pacientes obtuvieron cero. Su capacidad de comunicación iba de inexistente a mínima.

No resulta claro que utilizar antibióticos en estas circunstancias prolongue la vida, pero aun si lo hiciera, hay que preguntar: ¿con qué objeto? ¿Cuántas personas quieren alargar sus vidas si son incontinentes, si otros los tiene que alimentar, si ya no pueden caminar y si sus capacidades mentales se han deteriorado irreversiblemente de modo que ya no pueden hablar ni reconocer a sus hijos? En muchos casos, los antibióticos se administraban por vía intravenosa, lo que puede causar molestias.

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