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Advance Directives, Dementia, and Withholding Food and Water by Mouth If incompetent people do not lose their rights to refuse life-saving treatment, and if people when competent have just as strong a right to VSED as they do to refuse life-saving treatment, then people do not lose their right to voluntarily stopping eating and drinking when incompetent either. They only have to exercise it by advance directives.
 Competent patients have considerable legal authority to control life-and-death care. They may refuse medical life support, including medically delivered food and fluids. Even when they are not in need of any life-saving care, they may expedite death by refusing food and water by mouth—voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, or VSED. Neither right is limited to terminal illness. In addition, in four U.S. states, competent patients, if terminally ill, may obtain lethal drugs for aid-in-dying.

For people who have dementia and are no longer competent, however, control over the end of life is much less extensive. They may have written a clear advance directive  for refusing life-saving care in specified circumstances yet subsequently find themselves living for years in severe dementia with no need for life-saving care that could be refused. Chronic progressive dementia is not itself life threatening until its very final stage. Even in jurisdictions that permit active aid-in-dying, individuals with advanced dementia are not eligible; they lack the required current competence, and they are seldom deemed terminally ill. As for the right to VSED, its very name—voluntarily stopping eating and drinking—is seen as excluding noncompetent persons.

One option for ensuring that one does not live years in severe dementia is to use advance directives to withhold food and water by mouth. The driving element behind VSED is that forcing people to ingest food is as objectionable an intrusion on bodily integrity, privacy, and liberty as imposing unwanted medical treatment. Thus, if incompetent people do not lose their rights to refuse life-saving treatment, and if people when competent have just as strong a right to VSED as they do to refuse life-saving treatment, then people do not lose their right to VSED when incompetent either. They only have to exercise it by AD.
 Competent patients have considerable legal authority to control life-and-death care. They may refuse medical life support, including medically delivered food and fluids. Even when they are not in need of any life-saving care, they may expedite death by refusing food and water by mouth—voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, or VSED. Neither right is limited to terminal illness. In addition, in four U.S. states, competent patients, if terminally ill, may obtain lethal drugs for aid-in-dying.

For people who have dementia and are no longer competent, however, control over the end of life is much less extensive. They may have written a clear advance directive  for refusing life-saving care in specified circumstances yet subsequently find themselves living for years in severe dementia with no need for life-saving care that could be refused. Chronic progressive dementia is not itself life threatening until its very final stage. Even in jurisdictions that permit active aid-in-dying, individuals with advanced dementia are not eligible; they lack the required current competence, and they are seldom deemed terminally ill. As for the right to VSED, its very name—voluntarily stopping eating and drinking—is seen as excluding noncompetent persons.

One option for ensuring that one does not live years in severe dementia is to use advance directives to withhold food and water by mouth. The driving element behind VSED is that forcing people to ingest food is as objectionable an intrusion on bodily integrity, privacy, and liberty as imposing unwanted medical treatment. Thus, if incompetent people do not lose their rights to refuse life-saving treatment, and if people when competent have just as strong a right to VSED as they do to refuse life-saving treatment, then people do not lose their right to VSED when incompetent either. They only have to exercise it by AD.
Paul T. Menzel and M. Colette Chandler-Cramer. "Advance Directives, Dementia, and Withholding Food and Water by Mouth." Hastings Center Report 44, no. 3 (2014): 23-37.
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