REPORT: New Nevada Law Allows Doctors to Starve Dementia Patients to Death

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of David Harris Jr.

We on this page frequently address the issue of abortion and its evils. Any one of us will tell you that we are unequivocally opposed to the taking of the life of an unborn infant, regardless of the amount of time left before the child is to be born.

The report you’re about to see deals with senior citizens at the far end of their lives when uncertainty seems to be more prevalent and conditions crop up that make the senior citizen a relative shadow of where they once were.

I’ve heard of this happening, but this news is truly stunning. Nevada has passed a law allowing competent persons to sign an advance directive instructing that all food and water be withheld if they become incapacitated by dementia. In other words, the law allows people to order their future care givers to starve and dehydrate them to death.

This from LifeNews:

From the “End of Life Decisions Addendum Statement of Desires” portion of the advance directive form established in law by SB 121 (my emphasis).

(Insert name of agent) might have to decide, if you get very sick, whether to continue with your medicine or to stop your medicine, even if it means you might not live, (Insert name of agent) will talk to you to find out what you want to do, and will follow your wishes.

If you are not able to talk to (insert name of agent), you can help him or her make these decisions for you by letting your agent know what you want.

Here are your choices. Please circle yes or no to each of the following statements and sign your name below:

1. I want to take all the medicine and receive any treatment I can to keep me alive regardless of how the medicine or treatment makes me feel.

4. I want to get food and water even if I do not want to take medicine or receive treatment.

The highlighted question does not involve feeding tubes, which is a medical treatment. It isn’t about not providing nourishment when someone stops eating and drinking naturally as part of the dying process. Nor does it involve force feeding the patient. No, this provision requires withholding oral or spoon feeding.

Realize that this form could force caregivers to starve patients even when they willingly eat and drink — perhaps even if they ask for food or water. (This has happened before in a feeding tube case in Florida.) Don’t take my word for it. From an article on the Nevada law by bioethicist Thaddeus Mason Pope:

Even after we stop offering food and fluids, other problems may arise. Most problematically, the patient may make gestures or utterances that seem to contradict her prior instructions [to be starved].

Does such communication revoke the advance directive? A recent court case from the Netherlands suggests the answer is “no.” Once the patient reaches late-stage dementia, she is unable to knowingly and voluntarily revoke decisions she made with capacity. But the answer remains uncertain in the United States.

We certainly know the answer that bioethicists like Pope would urge on the courts. Besides, there is nothing in the law requiring that the provision quoted above only apply to “late stage” dementia.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here