Flaws in advance directives that request withdrawing assisted feeding in late-stage dementia may cause premature or prolonged dying

BMC Medical Ethics 23 (1):1-26 (2022)
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Abstract

BackgroundThe terminal illness of late-stage Alzheimer’s and related dementias is progressively cruel, burdensome, and can last years if caregivers assist oral feeding and hydrating. Options to avoid prolonged dying are limited since advanced dementia patients cannot qualify for Medical Aid in Dying. Physicians and judges can insist on clear and convincing evidence that the patient wants to die—which many advance directives cannot provide. Proxies/agents’ substituted judgment may not be concordant with patients’ requests. While advance directives can be patients’ last resort to attain a peaceful and timely dying consistent with their lifelong values, success depends on their being effective and acceptable. A single flaw can provide opponents justification to refuse the directive’s requests to cease assisted feeding.AimThis article considers 24 common advance directive flaws in four categories. Process flaws focus on how patients express their end-of-life wishes. Content flaws reflect drafters’ selection of conditions and interventions, and how they are described. Inherent flaws can make advance directives unacceptable to authorities concerned about premature dying. Strategies are needed to compel physicians to write needed orders and to prevent third parties from sabotaging these orders after they are implemented. The article includes excerpts from “dementia-specific” directives or supplements that exemplify each flaw—mostly from the US and Europe. No directive critiqued here included an effective strategy to resolve this long-debated bioethical conflict: the past directive requests “Cease assisted feeding” but the incapacitated patient apparently expresses the desire to “Continue assisted feeding.” Some opponents to the controversial request, cease assisted feeding, use this conflict as a conceptual wedge to practice hard paternalism. This article proposes a protocol to prevent this conflict from emerging. These strategies may prevent authorities from requiring patients to fulfill authorities’ additional clinical criteria as a prerequisite to honor the requests in patients directives.ConclusionThis critique of flaws may serve as a guide to drafting and to selecting effective and acceptable advance directives for dementia. It also poses several bioethical and clinical questions to those in authority: Does your paternalistic refusal to honor patients’ wishes respect their self-determination? Protect vulnerable patients from harm? Force patients to endure prolonged suffering? Violate the principles of bioethics? Violate the very foundation of patient-centered care?

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References found in this work

Principles of biomedical ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1979 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by James F. Childress.

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