The Corner

Should Nursing Homes Be Forced to Starve Dementia Patients?

(Photo:Dreamstime)

Assisted-suicide advocates are pushing an “aggressive advance directive” that would force nursing homes to starve dementia patients — even if they willingly eat — when they reach a specified stage of cognitive decline. NPR is on the story:

Treading into ethically and legally uncertain territory, a New York end-of-life agency has approved a new document that lets people stipulate in advance that they don’t want food or water if they develop severe dementia.

Aaand, there’s a penalty flag on the field. The organization pushing this is not “a New York end-of-life agency,” terminology that could make the reader think it was an official government body. Rather, it is an assisted-suicide advocacy group. Hence, its aggressive instructions would not be legally binding, as mandatory starvation is not specifically authorized by New York law.

Still, it is worth noting that nursing homes could face family pressure — even lawsuits — to prevent spoon feeding if a patient had signed the group’s “aggressive advance directive:”

The document offers two options. One option is a request for “comfort feeding” — providing oral food and water if a patient appears to enjoy or allows it during the final stages of the disease. Another alternative would halt all assisted eating and drinking, even if a patient seems willing to accept it.

Advance directives permit signers to decide ahead of time the kind of medical treatments they want or don’t want if they become incompetent to make their own medical decisions. But spoon feeding is not a medical treatment! It is humane care, akin to keeping the patient warm and clean.

People should not have the power to force caregivers to starve them to death — any more than they should be able to order their future selves to be placed in front of an open window without a blanket during a blizzard so they die of hypothermia.

And imagine if such an order ever became enforceable. How many good and kind caregivers would leave the field if they knew they could be forced to starve their patients — even if the patient begged for food — since the dementia sufferer would be deemed incompetent to make the request.

Then, the same people now pushing the “aggressive advance directive” would stomp and yell about how cruel it is to starve people to death. But instead of insisting on stopping the practice, they would say to give them the lethal jab and get it over with quickly. That wouldn’t be a medical treatment either.

The assisted-suicide movement pretends to want a limited license to end life. But that is a subterfuge. The actual goals are far more radical and sweeping.

Those with eyes to see, let them see.

 

 

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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