Rather than being dehydrated to death, 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre is being moved to a rehabilitation center where she will receive care to maximize her capacities. Haleigh was beaten nearly to death by her mother and step father last September, suffering a catastrophic brain injury. The state guardian got the Massachusetts Supreme Court to order both her respirator and tube-supplied food and fluids terminated. But Haleigh unexpectedly breathed on her own and seemed to react. She now has a chance for life.
I will say it again: We need to reconsider the issue of food and fluids as just another medical treatment. Removing nutrition will result in death. As Haleigh proved, this is not always true of other forms of care. Therefore, we should be loath to remove medically appropriate “artificial nutrition and hydration,” barring a written advanced directive or clear and convincing evidence that it would be in the patient’s best medical interest. In other words, we should never decide that someone else’s “quality of life” is such that we won’t even permit them to have food and water.