Via Wesley J. Smith comes a story that you need to hear, because knowledge is power. In this case it may be a power that will save the life of someone you love. Put this phrase in your mind. Note it down:
It doesn't mean what you think it means. (See also "palliative care," which means the same thing.)
In Texas, Terry Mace was only 43 years old when he went into cardiac arrest and fell at his home. He and his wife had been estranged for five years, but that didn't prevent her from showing up and ordering, on March 22, that his nutrition and hydration be removed. (Mace was evidently unconscious and unable to eat and drink on his own.) Mace's parents went to court promptly, and the court blocked her decisions (March 24) and granted guardianship to Mace's father on March 27. Victory! Well, not quite.
On March 29, the hospital (a Catholic hospital, by the way) got "permission" (scare quotes deliberate) from Mace's now-guardian family to put him on comfort care. They neglected to tell them that this meant the removal of the food and water that the family had just gone to court to have reinstated! (Ya' think that might have been a relevant thing to mention in a case where nutrition and hydration was obviously what the family wanted?)
On Monday, March 31, the family lawyer went to see Mace in the hospital and discovered that the feeding tube had been withdrawn. So, in addition to what looks like two to five days at the outset (depending on what the court's "blocking the wife's decisions" meant), Mace had now been without food and water for two days over the weekend. The hospital reinstated tube feeding, which allows them to say that they "cooperated with the family." Nice cooperation there. Mace died on April 1. When he would have died if he had consistently received nutrition and hydration since his heart attack is anyone's guess.
Sad failure of clear communication. What a shame.
Smith opines, probably correctly, that a lawsuit is not in the family's best interests and that a jury would probably refuse to make any award.
It's easy enough to say that the hospital staff were deliberately unclear, but to my mind it's almost worse if they weren't. That is to say, it's almost worse if Mace was surrounded by (in one sense) well-intentioned nurses and doctors who were just talking their lingo and to whom it never occurred that the family didn't know what "comfort care" meant. It's worse, because it means that, if your loved one is in the hospital, you shouldn't infer from, "This doctor or nurse seems like a nice person" or even "This doctor or nurse is a Christian" that "This doctor or nurse would voluntarily and explicitly tell me if the proposal is to remove food and hydration from my loved one. I can trust the rhetorical sound of what this doctor or nurse proposes to me." You can't. You can't trust it. And you certainly cannot infer that such a good person in a medical role would never recommend leaving someone without food or water until death. They might very well recommend what amounts to just that, though they wouldn't put it that way.
The training of even the best medical people today is pro-dehydration. I'm sorry to have to put it that bluntly, but it is true. In fact, they are trained to associate tube feeding with forced feeding. When they use a phrase like "palliative care" or "comfort care," they really believe that is best, and they are motivated to talk about it in a way that inclines you to accept it. This doesn't make them evil people, but it does mean that, if you disagree with them about leaving your loved ones for days with no food and fluids, you can't trust the rhetoric, and you have to know the code.
Addendum: A Facebook friend shares the following story about her son, now six, who was born with a serious health condition. She was pressured to put him on "comfort care" when he was a newborn:
It's very loaded how they present the options. I still remember the way the staff worded it: "Do you want us to do everything possible or do you want to make him as comfortable as possible? Do you want him to be comfortable?" Obviously, we were meant to take "doing everything possible" as being the opposite of being comfortable. It's easy to see how parents and family members could be tricked/guilt-tripped into something without fully comprehending to what they just agreed[.]