Who Wants a Feeding Tube?
My wife, Rose, picked me up from the office the other day. As usual she asked me, “What did you do today?” I replied, “Well, honey, let me tell you about the most important moment of my day… “This afternoon I sat next to a gentleman in his mid 80s who has a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. He was in my office with his wife of many years and a caring adult daughter. I told him that we needed to discuss one of the most difficult questions that I have to ask my clients—we needed to talk about feeding tubes, hydration/water, ventilators, and other life-prolonging treatment. “These things are all the more difficult to deal with when you are looking at a man who has a high probability of being alive, incapable, and subject to the life-and-death decision making of his loved ones. I took a breath and then looked into his eyes. He met my gaze, and then I placed my hand over his hand and said, ‘Your family needs to hear from you how you feel about life-prolonging treatment. I understand that you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. One of the things that may happen with Parkinson’s is that you may get to the point where you won’t be able to make your own life-and-death decisions. You may not actually die from Parkinson’s disease—but you have a high probability of dying from a complication of Parkinson’s. You may get the point where the doctor comes to your family and says that you are unable to make a decision about life support, and they must decide whether or not you should have a feeding tube or hydration or a ventilator. What do you want your family to do? Do you want these things?’ “He looked at me, and then he looked at them. He answered firmly, ‘I do not want that! Just keep me comfortable.’ “I turned to his wife and his daughter and I asked them if they understood his wishes and if they would be able to make sure that his wishes were respected when other family members show up and insist that ‘we have to do everything we can for Dad!’ They were given a chance to talk, and after that the daughter said, ‘Dad, I am so grateful that I know what you want. It gives me such peace of mind to be sure about what you would want us to do.’” Helping clients and their families have peace of mind is one of the most important things that I can do as an elder law estate planning attorney. What about you? Dear Reader, does your family have the piece of mind of knowing whether or not you want a feeding tube in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself and have no reasonable chance of recovery? Please take action over the holidays to have this important conversation with your loved ones. Then… put it in writing!