Australia Draft Guidelines Favor Feeding Patients Like Terri Schiavo

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 4, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australia Draft Guidelines Favor Feeding Patients Like Terri Schiavo Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 4
, 2007

Canberra, Australia ( — New draft guidelines in Australia put together by a national health committee say that comatose and incapacitated patients like Terri Schiavo should not be denied food and water. The new guidelines are voluntary and are aimed at helping health care workers and families.

A committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council published the guidelines which say that medical personnel should presume that a patient wants food and water when their decision is unknown.

That was the problem in the Terri Schiavo case — her family and former husband Michael disagreed about whether she would want nutrition provided. Courts ultimately sided with Michael and Terri died after a painful 13-day starvation and dehydration death.

The council also stressed the importance of communication between doctors and patients and families to help avoid disagreements.

According to a report in The Australian newspaper, the guidelines say that stopping food and water should only be considered when it is causing medical complications for the patient "such as respiratory infections because of food being breathed into the lungs."
The issue is "never whether the patient’s life is worthwhile, but whether a treatment is worthwhile" the guidelines say.

The draft is open for public comment until September and the guidelines were put together after a judge in 2000 criticized a hospital’s decision to withdraw food and water from a patient without consulting his family.

Pro-life groups strongly support making sure patients receive nutrition and other lifesaving medical treatment.

Burke Balch of the National Right to Life Committee’s medical ethics department says the withdrawal of food and water must be based on informed consent for the patient.

"Starving and dehydrating someone in order to bring about death, and then sedating the patient to avoid the pain associated with this [is a] rather terrible way to die," Balch said.

Nancy Valko, a leading pro-life nurse who monitors end-of-life issues, has also commented on food and water for patients.

"It has become increasingly common in some hospices to tell or even encourage people to refuse food and water long before the person is actively dying," Valko explained. "Starvation and dehydration is very different (and uncomfortable) from the true dying process."
Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother, agrees with Valko about problems in the medical community.

"The medical community continues to target the disabled by convincing the American people that if someone’s ‘quality of life’ is deemed unacceptable then it’s ‘okay’ to kill them by withholding their food and water," he said.