Saturday, April 13, 2019

“Starve Me” Advance Directive Is Immoral

This article was published by Evolution News on April 8, 2019.

Wesley Smith
By Wesley Smith

Not content with assisted suicide, the euthanasia movement wants people with dementia to be able to force caregivers to starve them to death when they become severely impacted — even when they willingly eat.

An assisted-suicide advocacy group in New York previously created an advance directive containing such instructions. And now the Hemlock Society — which today calls itself Compassion and Choices — boosts the “starve me to death” approach to dementia with instructions that would force caregivers to withhold spoon feeding:

I request that food and fluids in any form, including spoon-feeding, be stopped if, because of dementia, any of the following conditions occur: 
  • I appear indifferent to food and being fed.  
  • I no longer appear to desire to eat or drink.  
  • I do not voluntarily open my mouth to accept food without prompting…  
  • I turn my head away or try to avoid being fed or given fluids and am clearly repelled by food or fluids.  
  • I spit out food or fluids.  
  • I cough, gag, choke on, or aspirate (inhale) food or fluids.  
  • The negative consequences or symptoms of continued feeding and drinking, as determined by a qualified medical provider, outweigh the benefits.
Many of these provisions are, to say the least, subject to interpretation. And people with dementia may refuse food one meal, and accept the next.

Eating as a Reflex

Starvation for someone who still eats would cause agony, so C & C suggests asking for sedation. But here’s the thing: If someone isn’t imminently dying, sedation is actually a request to be kept unconscious so the patient can’t change their mind.

The instructions would seek to handcuff surrogate decision-makers and force starvation even if the patient opens his mouth to eat — characterized as a mere “reflex” in the document (my emphasis):

I want the instructions in this provision followed even if the person who has the right to make decisions for me and/or my caregivers judge that my quality of life, in their opinion, is satisfactory and I appear to them to be comfortable. No matter what my condition appears to be, I do not want to be cajoled, harassed, or forced to eat or drink. I do not want the reflexive opening of my mouth to be interpreted as giving my consent to being fed or given fluids or misinterpreted as a desire for food or fluids. I have given considerable thought to this decision and want my wishes followed.  
Before I am admitted to a long-term care facility, I want that facility to affirm its willingness to honor these instructions. If the long-term care facility where I already reside will not honor these instructions, I want to be transferred to one that will.
No care facility should ever honor such instructions. This isn’t about the circumstance when a patient stops eating as a normal part of the dying process. It isn’t about force-feeding with a tube down the throat or surgically inserting a feeding tube. It is about withholding food and water by mouth even when the patient accepts nourishment.
Unenforceable Instructions

I don’t believe these instructions are enforceable. Advance directives control the provision or withholding of medical treatments. Spoon feeding is not treatment, it is humane care akin to being kept warm and clean.

But even if the law should, one dark day, permit such a horror — the suffering of the dementia patient would not be the only important matter at stake. So too would be the emotional health, consciences, and moral wellbeing of husbands and wives, children, nurses, doctors, aides, and the like who would be compelled by the instructions to starve the patient to death. Talk about causing nightmares! I’m sorry, that is too much to ask of anyone.

1 comment:

Sue McKeown said...

No one likes every food item presented to him/her. Not everyone is hungry at arbitrary mealtimes. There are treatments and dietary alterations available for people who experience difficulty swallowing. (Any competent speech therapist knows this, much less an experienced nursing assistant in a long-term care center.) Not wanting to eat or drink may be a symptom of an easily treatable physical illness or depression. (Yes, patients with dementia can become depressed and it is treatable.) These things are not rocket science. One would hope that no long-term care center would allow their staff, from the most recently-hired nursing assistant to the director of nursing or the administrator to know these simple facts.

In my state, Ohio, assisting a suicide is a felony. Could an assisted-living center or nursing home be considered to be assisting a suicide if they followed a resident's directive like this?

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