Food and water as a basic right

It’s probably true that the most important issue we advocate through the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network is the importance of ensuring that food and water is considered a basic, universal healthcare right for every patient, regardless of their circumstance. It seems this is a practical unknown issue, and for all of the talk on both sides about the status of physician-assisted suicide legislation, the “food and water” issue is an already-legal means of assisted suicide and/or fatal healthcare rationing in every state.

As a primer on the food and water issue, Bobby Schindler writes:

In 2013, Margot Bentley, an Alzheimer’s patient in Canada, was the subject of a lawsuit filed by her family. They petitioned the court to order that her nursing home starve and dehydrate Margot to death by denying her spoon-fed meals. Like so many such cases, Margot was not actively dying and her situation only became an “end of life” case the moment that her family decided to try to end her life.

How did we reach this point?

It began decades ago, when the American Medical Association and prominent bioethicists determined that food and water delivered by means of a feeding tube would be re-classified from “basic and ordinary” care to “medical treatment.”

It’s a little-known fact that in all 50 states it is presently legal to withhold or deny food and water by means of a feeding tube to patients who are not actively dying and not facing any active “end of life” issue.

Delivery of food and water is the most basic form of care for our fellow human beings, and yet our healthcare policies and practices allow for the denial of this sort of care in a way that often brings about the end of a life, rather than being stopped as a part of any natural dying process.

Those who die specifically from a lack of food and water aren’t being “allowed to die,” rather they’re being actively killed—deprived of the most basic form of care by their caregivers, their physician, their hospital or insurer, and perhaps all four working in perverse agreement that the best thing for the patient would be to die, prematurely.

We can do better, and it starts with a frank acknowledgement of what’s actually happening when we deny food and water—whether by tube or spoon or tray—and rectifying our language in law, medicine, and culture.