Dementia patient at risk of being ‘starved to death’

An elderly woman with dementia who recently lost the ability to swallow but is otherwise healthy and sitting up “discussing recipes” has been discharged from hospital with a treatment plan which will involve her being “starved to death”, the High Court heard.

Having been told the 81-year-old woman has not eaten for 14 days, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, directed an urgent inquiry today into whether the proposed treatment is medically justifiable or if the woman should receive the normal treatment for her condition, PEG feeding via a tube into her stomach.

The woman’s GP had said in a letter to the hospital consultant involved that she, the GP, was “not comfortable ethically” with the proposed palliative care treatment, the judge noted.

The woman is “not imminently terminal” and, if the hospital’s plan of action for her care is continued, the cause of her death would be “from lack of feeding”, the doctor said.

“I am not comfortable ethically to be part of this care.”

The GP also said that if the proposed treatment decision was made as part of a multidisciplinary assessment, then she, the GP, could not override that “but I would need this in writing and to clearly state this”.

The hospital note “does not state anything re no PEG and the implications of this non-treatment”, she added.

The woman has had no food for 14 days after a consultant at the hospital said she was unsuitable for feeding via a tube into her stomach, the court heard.

She is on a glucose drip and her family are very concerned about her, it was stated.

Mr Justice Kelly said the matter must be addressed urgently as the woman has had no food for 14 days and no one would be in good condition if they were in the same position.

He directed either the HSE or hospital should attend a court hearing today to determine if the hospital’s plan is medically justified or if, as her family suggest, the woman should be instead fed via a tube into her stomach.

He would also be happy to hear from the woman’s family and GP, the judge added.

The woman is a ward of court and solicitor Andrew Cody, representing the concerns of the woman’s daughter, who constitutes her wardship committee, had raised the situation with the court. Neither the woman nor hospital may be identified by court order.

Mr Cody said the woman is a resident of a nursing home and has Alzheimer’s disease but is otherwise in reasonably good health.


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