Parents of Disabled Man Must Allow Feeding Tube

     (CN) – A severely mentally disabled 55-year-old who can no longer swallow must be fed through a tube, contrary to his parents’ wishes, a New York appeals court ruled.
     Joseph P. has the functional ability of a 4- to- 6-month-old child. In addition to severe mental retardation, he suffers from spastic quadriplegia, cerebral palsy and curvature of the spine.
     Joseph lived in a group home for 27 years before he was diagnosed with respiratory pneumonia. He could no longer swallow food or drink and would have to be fed through a tube.
     His parents refused to allow Joseph to be fed through a tube, and his doctor and the hospital’s chief medical officer agreed that it would impose an extraordinary burden on him.
     Michael Feeney, regional director of state operations for the New York State Office of Developmental Disabilites, sought a court order to insert the feeding tube that would save Joseph’s life.
     The Yates County Supreme Court agreed with Joseph’s parents and the doctors, but the Appellate Division’s Rochester-based Fourth Department reversed in late May.
     None of the complications that will arise from giving Joseph P. a feeding tube – “alone or in combination” – justifies the decision to deny life-sustaining treatment, according to the ruling.
     Feeney explained that those complications include “the difficulty Joseph P. will encounter when he is moved to a new facility; the need for restraints to prevent him from removing the feeding tube; the continuing risks of aspiration; and the potential complications arising from the feeding tube,” the decision states. “Respondent’s medical witnesses testified that, although insertion of the feeding tube would not be painful, it could create the need for painful and unpleasant measures such as deep suctioning and restraints, and could place Joseph P. at risk for peritonitis. They further testified that the feeding tube would not eliminate the risk of aspiration, nor would it impede the progression of his spinal curvature, which will ultimately obstruct his breathing and cause his death.”
     A doctor at Joseph’s group home even said Joseph is alert, communicative and enjoys social activities, according to the ruling.
     He said the feeding tube would give Joseph P. “an excellent prognosis with many years of life,” the four-justice panel concluded.
     “The burdens of prolonged life are not so great as to outweigh any pleasure, emotional enjoyment or other satisfaction that he may yet be able to derive from life,” they added.

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