Accelerating Death by Stopping Life-Preserving Medications

Depriving a person of a feeding tube can also deprive the person of critical oral medicines. Usually, all medications are stopped along with the feeding tube. In one case, I witnessed a fully conscious man with mild Alzheimer’s, following a bout of pneumonia, be deprived of a feeding tube when his swallowing was affected after he was successfully extubated (i.e., his breathing tube was removed). As a result, he was not given his blood pressure medicine, which caused his blood pressure to go sky high. He soon died of a stroke. We often forget that there are many ways to accelerate death.

I was there when the neurologist examined him just after he was extubated. The family was considering a feeding tube because the man had trouble swallowing after he was extubated, but possible could benefit from therapy to help him swallow again. The doctor asked the patient questions. The man answered each question accurately by nods or mouthing words. Then the neurologist held up 3 fingers and asked the man how many. Shakily, the man raised his hand and showed 3 fingers. The neurologist left and wrote an order to make the man NPO (nothing by mouth) and to discontinue his meds. Shocked, I asked, “Why?” The doctor answered that the man didn’t raise his fingers “fast enough!”

The family decided to go along with the doctor’s recommendation.