plate of cookies in hospital bed

Hastings Center Report

Smuggled Donuts and Forbidden Fried Chicken: Addressing Tensions around Family and Food Restrictions in Hospitals

Abstract: It is a common practice for family members to bring food to hospitalized loved ones. However, in some cases, this food contravenes a patient’s dietary plan. Such situations can create significant tension and distrust between health care professionals and families and may lead the former to doubt a family’s willingness or ability to support patient recovery. This case-study essay offers an ethical analysis of these situations. We draw on Hilde Lindemann’s work to argue that providing food to family members is an important way that families discharge their moral functions of caring for their members and holding them in their identities. When family members are hospitalized, other means of performing these functions are limited. Acknowledging the ethical importance of feeding family members alongside the medical need for dietary restrictions, we offer strategies for creative problem-solving that center diet as a subject for shared decision-making and regular, ongoing communication among health care professionals, patients, and families.

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