The invaluable Patients Rights Council (for whom I am a paid consultant) has published a badly needed fact sheet on the newest craze in suicide advocacy–self starvation/dehydration–known in death promoting parlance as Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking, or VSED.
Here are some excerpts from the PRC Fact Sheet:
2. Is VSED suicide? Yes. VSED is intended to cause death. Suicide is defined as “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind.”
Suicide advocates often pretend that suicide isn’t really suicide. But starving oneself to death is as much suicide as self-hanging or jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Suicide, of course, is not against the law. But unlike other methods of suicide, it is almost impossible for authorities or doctors to prevent the death. Example: You can stop a person from jumping off a bridge or cut them down when they are hanging. But you can’t force feed people because that is medical treatment, which they have the right to refuse.
(One day, I fear, it will be illegal for doctors to save the lives of suicide victims if they state they don’t want medical treatment. One day? It already happened in the UK to Kerrie Woolterton, who swallowed anti-freeze and was allowed to die by her doctors without treatment)
Back to the Fact Sheet:
6. I’ve read that VSED is painless. How can that be true when the symptoms of dehydration are so gruesome? Many advocates of VSED say it is painless, however their claim is based on the requirement that individuals receive medical supervision including pain and symptom control as they dehydrate to death… Without powerful sedatives and other palliative measures (and, sometimes even with such measures), dehydration deaths have been described as horrific.
How bad can dehydration be? Well, Kate Adamson said it was worse agony than having abdominal surgery with inadequate anesthesia–horrors that she experienced.
9. Can health care providers refuse to support VSED? If a competent person stops eating and drinking, health care providers cannot force feed that person (either orally or by tube feeding). To do so could legally constitute the crime of battery.
However, health care providers are not compelled to provide drugs to deal with the symptoms of death by dehydration. Instead, with kindness and firmness, they can explain their willingness to alleviate those symptoms through the effective and simple means of providing food and fluids.
That’s precisely what they should do.
One of the worst things about promoting VSED is the potential for confusion. Patients sometimes stop eating and drinking when they have entered the active dying process. At such times, it is medically inappropriate to force sustenance upon the patients.
VSED promotion can make the families of such naturally dying people believe that forbearing from forced feeding is akin to assisting their suicides–leading to inappropriate actions that harm the loved one, or unnecessary guilt. Indeed, I am often approached by such people who worry (inaccurately) that they helped kill grandma.
Promoters of VSED are causing great harm–all in the name of “compassion,” of course.
For more on my views about this controversial issue, hit this link.