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Withholding artificial feeding from the severely demented: merciful or immoral? Contrasts between secular and Jewish perspectives
  1. J Kunin
  1. PO Box 487, Zichron Yaakov 30900, Israel;

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    According to Jewish law, to make a judgment that a life has no purpose and is not worth saving is contrary to the concept of justice

    Traditional medical practice dictates that when patients are unable to eat or drink enough to sustain their basic nutritional requirements, artificial feeding and hydration is indicated. Common clinical examples of this problem are patients with senile dementia and those in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). In recent decades, however, the practice of mandating artificial feeding has been increasingly questioned. A combination of legal, ethical, and clinical considerations has resulted in broad support for withholding and withdrawing artificial nutrition. The guiding ethical principle in the current clinical standards is that patient autonomy must be honoured. In the context of an incompetent adult (such as a patient with advanced dementia or in a PVS), advance directives or surrogate decision making are legally binding. Such requests to withhold artificial nutrition are considered appropriate and even encouraged.1 Such a view, however, is not unanimous. For example, Catholic writers have questioned the current consensus. The New Jersey Catholic Conference has written that withholding nutrition and hydration from such patients “ultimately results in starvation, dehydration, and death,” and that withdrawing such basic care from patients who are not dying but in a PVS “is a clear statement that the patient’s life has no moral value”.2 This question is also of great concern in Jewish law (halachah). In contrast to secular medical ethics, halachah requires that artificial feeding be given to patients with dementia or in a PVS. The following discussion gives an overview of the pertinent arguments that have led to the consensus in secular ethics that artificial feeding may be withheld from the severely demented and the halachic considerations that argue against this practice.


    The most obvious …

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