Autonomy and paternalism in geriatric medicine. The Jewish ethical approach to issues of feeding terminally ill patients, and to cardiopulmonary resuscitation

Journal of Medical Ethics 24 (1):44-48 (1998)
Abstract
Respecting and encouraging autonomy in the elderly is basic to the practice of geriatrics. In this paper, we examine the practice of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and "artificial" feeding in a geriatric unit in a general hospital subscribing to jewish orthodox religious principles, in which the sanctity of life is a fundamental ethical guideline. The literature on the administration of food and water in terminal stages of illness, including dementia, still shows division of opinion on the morality of withdrawing nutrition. We uphold the principle that as long as feeding by naso-gastric (N-G) or percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) does not constitute undue danger or arouse serious opposition it should be given, without causing suffering to the patient. This is part of basic care, and the doctor has no mandate to withdraw this. The question of CPR still shows much discrepancy regarding elderly patients' wishes, and doctors' opinions about its worthwhileness, although up to 10 percent survive. Our geriatric patients rarely discuss the subject, but it is openly ventilated with families who ask about it, who are then involved in the decision-making, and the decision about CPR or "do-not-resuscitate" (DNR) is based on clinical and prognostic considerations
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