Talking Points on Health
Decisions Restrictions Bills to Prevent Feeding Tube Withdrawal
provided by the national office of COMPASSION & CHOICES
In the wake of the Terri Schaivo case,
religious conservatives launched a national campaign
to roll back state Advance Healthcare Directive laws.
These laws make it:
(1) Difficult to remove a feeding tube from a permanently unconscious
(2) Easy for meddlesome politicians and organizations to tie up a case
in court for years.
These bills are often named the
"Starvation and Dehydration of Persons with Disabilities Prevention
This name is inflammatory and inaccurate,
implying that people whose irreversible brain damage
caused permanent coma or persistent vegetative state (PVS) are simply
Current state law authorizes removal of feeding tubes
if the patient is "permanently unconscious."
This includes irreversible coma and PVS,
in which the person has no sensory perception
and does not hear, see, speak or respond to anything in the environment.
No reasonable definition of "disabled"
includes a permanently unconscious, permanently unresponsive condition.
The bill sets a very high legal standard:
clear and convincing evidence of an express and informed wish
to withdraw the feeding tube in "applicable circumstances."
Clear, convincing, express, informed, and applicable are actually 5
all of which can be used to discount or disregard a person's stated
The bill authorizes an army of vigilantes to challenge
a family's decisions to remove a feeding tube.
Among those with standing to sue are any
"current of former health care provider"
including nurses, medical technicians, religious institutions and
The bill also empowers public official, politicians
and right to life advocacy groups
to intrude in a family's most intimate and difficult decisions,
trying it up in court for years.
Even with a patient's clear statement of written instructions,
the bill creates a loophole for a claim that the instruction does not
or patient's condition does not count as an "applicable circumstance."
These laws will do great harm to people who do not want
to be kept alive and unconscious against their will.
They will intensify the grief of families and expose private, intimate
to protracted court battles and political grandstanding.