Feeding Tubes Can Keep Patients Alive Indefinitely

Dr. Kyle Krohn
Dr. Kyle Krohn

Tuesday was day five without a feeding tube for Terri Schiavo.

Dr. Kyle Krohn said, "Usually, someone who's not receiving any food or water will probably not live more than one or two weeks."

That's why Terri Schiavo's family says she'll die a slow, painful death if her feeding tube remains pulled.  Local physicians say without it, she'll likely die from dehydration, not starvation.

Dr. Krohn said, "That can be very uncomfortable, at least in its initial stages. Anybody who's gone a long time without having a drink of water knows how the mouth gets dry and parched and you have the sensation of thirst.  Apparently, after that goes on for a long period of time, however, the sense of discomfort tends to subside."

Feeding tubes are simple plastic or latex hoses inserted in the stomach wall, nose or throat.  They're used to feed liquids and nutrients to patients who can't feed themselves.  Terri Schiavo has been using one for the past 15 years.

Feeding tubes are not complicated or high-tech devices, but they can keep a patient alive indefinitely.

Terri Schiavo's case is bringing a lot of attention to living wills.  Schiavo's husband says she wouldn't have wanted to depend on a feeding tube to stay alive and told him that before she suffered brain damage.

Schiavo's family doesn't believe that.  This argument could have been decided if Schiavo had prepared a living will.  A living will is a document that allows a patient to decide ahead of time whether or not they'd want to be removed from life support.

Lufkin attorney Jason Armstrong said, "Mom and dad say one thing, husband says another.  At least if there was something that she had signed and formalized, it would give him something to go to the courthouse and say 'this is what my wife wanted.'"

If you don't have a living will, writing your final wishes down on a sheet of paper may be good enough.  If you want legal assurance that won't be contested later, you should contact an attorney.