MAA Defines Terminal Illness

In a formal proclamation yesterday, the Medical Association of America (MAA) officially announced a new definition of terminal illness. This new definition states that

‘Terminal illness’ shall be hereafter defined as any condition, state, or way of being which is certain to be followed by death after any definite or indefinite period of time.

Tiffany L. Herrera, senior director of marketing for the MAA, explains the reasons for this new definition:

Older definitions of ‘terminal illness’ were flawed on two counts. The first flaw is a practical one: the difficulty and expense of accurately predicting the future. If, for instance, the definition of ‘terminal illness’ were to state that one terminally ill would die within a given period of time, applying this definition would require accurate knowledge of the future. But, of course, because the energies involved in foreseeing the future are so high, the costs of the procedure are prohibitive except when the prediction is for only a few days in advance. By not including any definite date when death will occur, this new definition saves the medical profession millions of dollars in prediction costs and prevents us from having to guess how long a terminally ill patient will live.

The second flaw is a matter of fairness: all definitions which require the terminally ill to die within a certain period of time are necessarily discriminatory. Why, for instance, should the definition select some period of time, such as death within six months? What about someone who is going to die within six months and one minute? Once you realize that any specific length of time is necessarily both arbitrary and exclusive, you can see that the new definition is much better. By extending the rights, benefits, and protections of terminal illness to all those whose condition is certain to result in death, the new definition is more equitable, as well as economically and practically superior.


“Closing of the Jerome Relocation Center, Denson, Arkansas. A room full of hospital equipment ready for crating and shipment to hospitals at other center.” Photograph by Charles E. Mace (NARA record: 8464453) Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


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