Hi. My 97 year old grandfather has taken a hard turn after beating a case of pneumonia. While in the hospital, he kept taking out his IV, and hospital staff eventually strapped him down, which led him to refuse to eat, and now the after effects has led to dimentia and incoherent talk. I was just told by family “he wouldn’t want to live like that” when the option of a feeding tube was recommended by hospital staff. “He’s already in rough shape… He would just take it out…” and so on and so on. Is it just me, or would the Church recommend sustaining his life as much as possible with the feeding tube? He’s about to be moved to Hospice.
Death…natural death, of course, is also as blessed as life. For heaven’s sake, it means being ready to let go of this world to go and be with Jesus in the next. Sometimes I think keeping someone hooked up to life support and all of that is only just because someone else isn’t ready to let them go, and that borders on selfish. We, as human beings, were created and meant to die. We have lived, we were given a body and a soul. Our body is only our shell. The soul is more important, and life after our earthly death is what we were meant for. Our true home is not on earth but in heaven, and we strive for that. I, personally, hate life support and feeding tubes. Sometimes I think technology is a bit too advanced. I would never, never want to be kept artificially alive. When God has called us to slip from this world into the next…it is time.
I don’t think a feeding tube is that big of a deal. Especially if it’s a mic-key button. My daughter had one for six weeks and she was able to do all her normal toddler stuff. Is he taking out the IV because he doesn’t want it in, or because of his dementia. If he really doesn’t want the feeding tube, then I’d say not to put it in, but if he’s just confused, I don’t think it would do anything except help to make him comfortable. I’m not a canon law expert, but I was under the impression that when a person is nearing the end, it’s reasonable to give them water, nourishment, and medication for the pain, in order to keep them comfortable.
Last I checked you can go to hospice with a feeding tube. There are some programs that will even accept patients who have not even signed a DNR form.
AFAIK having a feeding tube is not considered extraordinary care by the Church. A respirator would be. However there are cases, such as at the very end of life when the body isn’t even capable of digesting the food, that are an exception to the “have to provide food/nutrition” concept.
What I’m not sure about, is what if an old demented person is capable of eating but simply doesn’t want to? I think most would find it cruel to shove food in that person’s mouth, though of course that would be too dangerous to do without having them choke on it. But it’s okay to force feed them using a feeding tube?
I know many people have feeding tubes for various reasons and do very well with them, but if you have to literally tie someone up to stop them from pulling it out? That strikes me as cruel, too.
Perhaps you confused a feeding tube with a ventilator, but a feeding tube is absolutely *not *considered an extaordinary measure. Patients must be fed and hydrated as possible, until their bodily processes start shutting down.
The goal, so to speak, is for the patient to die of a disease or old age rather than of starvation. If your grandfather refuses to eat, and refuses to keep a tube or iv in, and there is no other way to care in this way for him, that may indicate that he is feeling discomfort due to being close to death, but the doctors ought to be able to tell you he has reached that stage. In a case as particular as this, you should contact the Catholic chaplain of the hospital or someone at the diocese for advice on the ethics of the situation.
Is it humane to insert a feeding tube into a 97 year old with dementia, or is it just prolonging the natural dying process? I would talk with your pastor, or maybe call the National Catholic Bioethics Center.
I was faced with the feeding tube decision for my mother, though she was only in her late 70s. There was more pressure to let her die but something just told me that wasn’t right. I don’t know if your grandfather would have to be sedated to accept the tube, and you and the doctors probably can’t know either. The question of whether his body can still accept nourishment would seem to be key.
USCCB website and National Catholic Bioethics Center have some good resources on these issues. And pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance to do the right thing. May God bless you and your grandfather and family.
Let me clarify - when I said a feeding tube was considered extraordinary, that’s based on what was presented to me by medical and hospice staff when caring for an elderly relative. I did not intend to imply that the Church made that particular call. Apologies if my comment was misleading or unclear.
My point remains that you are welcome to pursue such, but you can be at ease with your conscience should you opt out.
From personal experience working as a nurse, a feeding tube, for a 97 year old man about to go on hospice, is an extraordinary measure and would just be prolonging the inevitable. Yes, it could aid in his comfort but placing a G-Tube is a surgical procedure that creates an artificial opening and is an alternate way for nutrients to be given to a patient. Medical advances do help but there comes a point where it just prolongs death and adds to the suffering of a person who, 100 years ago would have just passed away.
There are times where a G-tube is theurapeutic, like a younger and stronger patient who loses there tongue to cancer or was born without an esophagus. It depends on the situation really and whether or not it’s what’s the patient wants. However, for a 97 year old who is going on hospice, meaning they are given a life expectancy of under 6 months, it would be considered an extraordinary measure. Especially if the person is very weak and has no desire to eat, at that age and if they are in such poor health, a person shouldn’t be forced to eat if they don’t want too.
I think there may be a difference between secular concepts of what is “extraordinary” in a hospice situation, and a Catholic one.
However, I agree there is a difference between using a feeding tube to simply bypass some obstruction in the mouth or esophagus, as can develop with cancer, and placing a tube to essentially force-feed someone who is refusing to eat. I think this could be cruel, especially if the person must be physically tied down, or sedated to near-comatose levels, in order to keep them from pulling the tube out.
On the other hand I think it would be cruel NOT to place a feeding tube if the patient actually wants to eat but can’t swallow due to a tumor, or can’t swallow due to an illness such a Parkinson’s. Even if their life expectancy is below 6 months.
Also, cutting a hole in the stomach is a surgical procedure and therefore has risks like any surgery does.
There isn’t enough information from the OP to know exactly why his grandfather would “need” a feeding tube and so that’s all I’m comfortable stating for now.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center has an excellent pdf about this called Are Feeding Tubes Required? (just goggle it) which gives an excellent and nuanced answer. In short, the presumption is always in favor of providing food and hydration to a dying patient, though there are some situations in which a feeding tube would not be morally obligatory (for example, if the nutrition was causing additional suffering because the intestines were unable to absorb it). I will second (third/fourth) the recommendation to contact the NCBC to discuss the particulars of your relative’s case.