Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking, and Advance Directives

A recent Kaiser Health News article tells the story of a woman with Alzheimer’s disease whom her husband claims was being spoon-fed against her written wishes. According to the article, the woman had drafted advance directives when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, in which she requested that no measures be taken to prolong her life, including artificial nutrition and hydration. The woman’s husband interpreted the advance directive to include the spoon-feeding, and even went to court to enforce the document’s provisions. A local judge, however, rejected his request, finding that state rules and regulations required nursing homes to offer residents three meals each day, and to provide assistance with eating, if necessary.

This case has highlighted a controversial subject; many terminally ill patients are attempting to engage in voluntary stopping eating and drinking, or VSED , by executing advance directives. VSED normally is used to hasten the death of a terminally ill patient through dehydration, and usually will result in death within a two-week timeframe. One of the difficulties with VSED is the patient’s competence to make the decision when the time comes. For example, the woman mentioned above continued to open her mouth to be fed food and intake water, long after she could legally consent to VSED. Advocates of VSED claim that it can allow a terminally ill patient to control the circumstances of his or her death. Critics, however, see VSED as cruel torture that leads to the starvation of elderly, disabled, and mentally ill individuals.

In the state of Wisconsin, you can execute a living will, as well as a health care power of attorney, both of which can express your wishes about end-of-life care. A living will allows you to specify the type of life-sustaining nutrition (if any) that you want to receive if you are in a terminal condition or a persistent vegetative state with no chance of recovery. On the other hand, a health care power of attorney allows you to appoint a person to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make those decisions. A health care power of attorney covers not only decisions related to end-of-life care, but all other health care decisions.

At Boller & Vaughan, we are here to stand up for the rights of senior citizens and their families who have suffered injuries from abuse or neglect, whether physical, emotional, or financial, while under the care of those are supposed to prevent such injuries from occurring. Contact us today at (608) 268-0268, set up an appointment with one of our Wisconsin nursing home abuse attorneys, and discover how we can help.


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