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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingTerri Schiavo's parents, right-to-life advocates, and some lawmakers believe starving Terri is inhumane. Dr. Kim Mulvihill reports on what happens to a person after feeding tubes are removed.
Brandi Swindell, Protester: You can't even imagine that this woman is in there being starved to death, but we'll try our best to get her a little bit of water and bread.
But feeding her bread and water could actually cause Terri Schiavo more pain and suffering.
Dr. Steve Pantilat, Palliative Care Specialist: “It would be actually very dangerous to feed Terri Schiavo right now, to think about giving her food. Because if you put anything in her mouth the chances are it will go into the lung and give her serious pneumonia and cause her to cough, is very high right now. She cannot swallow normally.”
Dr. Steve Pantilat is an alliative care specialist at UCSF. This care gives comfort and support to patients nearing the end of their lives. Dr. Pantilat says patients like Terri Schiavo don’t die from starvation, but from dehydration. With a lack of water the salts in the blood start to get concentrated, and that will cause the kidneys to fail.
Dr. Steve Pantilat: “The salts in your blood getting more concentrated and your kidneys failing both cause coma. They cause you to go into a deeper and deeper and deeper level of coma, and people pass very quietly and very peacefully.”
And the lack of nutrition may actually help patients die a more peaceful death.
Dr. Steve Pantilat: “They tend to feel hungry. Their body metabolism changes and they experience sometimes a sense of well-being. Their brain actually endorphins in response and they can get a sense of well-being the way people who fast for religious purposes sometimes feel.”
Every day in virtually every hospital across the country, patients are deciding they no longer want to kept alive by a feeding tube or a respirator. In Terri Schiavo's case her wishes were never put down on paper.