To Feed or Not to Feed, That Is the Question

To feed or not to feed, that can be a difficult question.
Throughout history, offering food to the people you like or love
has been considered a sign of caring and hospitality.
To feed or not to feed, that can be a difficult question.

Throughout history, offering food to the people you like or love has been considered a sign of caring and hospitality.

I don’t know about your parties or family gatherings, but ours always seem to revolve around fancy hors d’oeuvres, a meal, dessert and adult beverages in glass bottles.

When it’s just family (I don’t want to shock you), but I’ve been known to serve food right out of the pots and pans they were cooked in!

I’ve also been known to put the mayonnaise jar on the table for knife dipping convenience.

Be assured that when company comes, I switch into “proper mode.” I get out the nice dishes and cloth napkins.

I might even decorate the table and light a couple of candles.

Why? I want my company to feel welcome and special as long as they’re in my home. Serving them nice food on pretty plates seems like a good way to send that message.

When someone isn’t feeling well in our home, similar rituals begin. Do you want some soup? Can I make you grandma’s sure-to-cure hot toddy? How about some juice? Want some ice cubes in that water? A straw for your drink?

Those edible efforts tell the patient, “I love you, want you to get well and would like to help in any way I can.”

If we go to those lengths for company or for someone who’s got a 24 hour bug, it’s no wonder we’re prone to force feed those who can no longer feed themselves.

We think, “By golly, no one’s going to starve to death if I can do something about it!”

Obviously I’m not talking about a case of strep throat or tonsillitis. I’m not talking about the person who’s asking for food and you’re trying to figure out what they can handle.

I’m talking about the end stage of the dying process.

For terminal patients, refusing food is a sign that they’re in the final phase of life. Their bodies are shutting down and they’re ready to cooperate.

Medically, artificial nutrition means providing food through a tube.

The tube can be run through the nose to the stomach, through the stomach wall or into a vein. These techniques are considered medical interventions–or, life support.

Certainly there are times when temporary life support can be helpful–giving a person’s body time to heal while it returns to a state of functioning. Unfortunately, medical professionals often suggest artificially supporting a life when there is no hope of recovery.

Common sense tells us that it’s more comfortable for someone to die without a feeding tube.

And, current research suggests that feeding and hydrating a dying body can also lead to a more painful or prolonged death.

Even with the Teri Schiavo, Karen Quinlan and Nancy Cruzan medical cases awakening our sensitivities to this subject, scores of Americans haven’t told their families how they feel about it.

I’ve talked to my family about this as well as other end other end-of-life topics and, just in case they forget what I’ve said, I’ve recorded my wishes in the form of an Advance Healthcare Directive.

If there’s a possibility of recovery, I’ve asked my health care agents to consent to temporary IV sustenance.

Don’t ask where I got this number from because there’s nothing magical about it, but I’ve told them if there’s no sign of recovery in ten days, it’s time to withdraw any form of life support and let me go.

Nobody likes a good meal better than I do, but I’ve told them that if I can’t ask for food, hold my own spoon, chew or swallow–it’s time to stop fueling this body.

No tubes or needles, please. Just keep my mouth moistened with wet swabs or ice chips.

Even though I’ve told them and put it in writing, I know it’ll be hard for them to follow my instructions.

But it does give me comfort to know that it would be even harder if they didn’t know what I want.

I hate to sound like a broken record but just have to ask: Have you talked to your family about what you would want? Have you put that discussion in writing?

As Kaiser says, “To have your wishes honored, make your wishes known.”

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