Denying food and fluids to persons with disabilities: Death by dehydration/starvation
There have been numerous cases of patients with disabilities denied the basic necessities of life, meaning food and fluids, in order to end their lives. Terri Schiavo of Florida and Vincent Lambert of France are two high profile cases which received international attention. In both instances, the parents fought for the maintenance of food and fluids for their adult children. Tragically, these families lost their battle in court.
Section 25f of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stipulates that countries must: “Prevent discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability.”
Withholding or withdrawing food and fluids from a person who is not imminently dying, with the intention of causing death, is euthanasia. Even if food and water are provided by feeding tube, it does not transform basic care into a medical treatment.
The case of Hannah Cement, an Ottawa woman went to court recently. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) reported on July 11, 2019:
“Today EPC was informed that Hugh Scher, the lawyer for the Cement family, achieved a negotiated agreement whereby Hannah will continue to be fed and hydrated and receive basic medical care until she dies a natural death.
Hannah Cement is a 62 year-old woman with Down Syndrome and dementia, who is a life-long member of an Orthodox Jewish family and community. The substitute decision makers for Hannah, her family, refused to consent to a course of treatment that constituted the withdrawal of all treatment and care, including food and fluids and providing only comfort care.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) was granted limited intervention standing, in the court, based on our concerns related to the definition of food and fluid as medical treatment.
In late March, 2019, the Consent and Capacity Board (medical decision making tribunal) made a terrible decision in the Cement case, essentially ordering the withdrawal of all medical treatment from Hannah. This would have led to Hannah dying a similar death as Vincent Lambert.
The family appealed the decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, once again, sought intervention standing in the case.
The news that the doctor, the hospital and the Cement family reached an agreement to assure that Hannah will continue to receive basic medical care until she dies a natural death is an incredible victory.
While we mourn the death of Vincent Lambert, we are very thankful for the legal agreement to enable Hannah Cement to continue living until she dies a natural death.”