Are Food and Water No Longer “Basic Care”? A Disturbing New Trend in Medicine


Bobby Schindler, brother of the late Terri Schiavo who was starved to death by a hospital under court order in 2005, says there is a legal reality that should send shivers down all our spines.

According to Schindler, “it is presently legal in every state deliberately to bring about the end of a patient’s life by denying a nonterminal person food and water.” This is based on a precedent set by the Supreme Court in a 1986 case, where they declared that giving food and water to a patient is classified as “medical treatment” — not the most basic of necessities.

Earlier this year, state legislators in Oregon (which currently allows assisted suicide) passed a bill classifying hand-feeding of a patient who is unable to feed himself as “medical care” rather than the “basic and ordinary” care mandated by all medical ethical standards ever. The bill passed the state Senate 17-13 but was tabled in a House committee, so it’s dead — for now.

Schindler challenges the concept of the term “persistent vegetative state” — the diagnosis given to his sister Terri — as arbitrary and subjective and thus very troublesome. People in a “vegetative” state have brain function, are anesthetized because they can probably feel pain, respond to stimuli, breathe on their own, and often have normal lifespans. And recent medical research and developments have revealed that “the brain has some capability to ‘rewire’ itself after experiencing catastrophic injury.”

Schindler suggests a better term would be “unresponsive wakefulness,” which describes the condition more accurately.

The full article is worth reading. It is both baffling and disturbing that lawmakers, with the backing of many “ethicists,” would try to declare that food and water are now considered a medical luxury and not a necessity.

Thomas Valentine

Thomas Valentine is a columnist for

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