Feeding Tubes and Heroic Life Support
On the other hand, many of these same people would be unwilling to withdraw nutritional support in the form of a feeding tube when facing the exact same clinical situation (as in the Schiavo case). The argument, of course, is that food and water is very different than "heroic" measures like a ventilator. Food and water is well...food and water. It's not at all analogous to the extreme interventions that medical science has made possible.
This assumption is typically stated without proof. But is it a reasonable one? Actually, the answer will probably surprise most people: Modern enteral feedings as practiced today are extremely high tech and could never have been accomplished until very recently in the history of medicine. For a very good review of this see L Harkness's paper in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2002.
The reliable surgical placement of a permanent feeding tube as opposed to the relatively temporary solution of a nasogastric tube was a major development and wasn't really possible until the 1940's. Modern nutritional formulas didn't come into being until the 1960's. Refinement of the technique of enteral nutrition as a whole didn't come together until the 1980's.
Terri Schiavo's longterm care, as managed for the past 15 years, was not reliably possible until mere decades before she went into a persistent vegetative state. To equate enteral feedings with merely eating is medically wrong.
You may still believe that witholding food from any patient is somehow morally wrong, but you can not say that tube feedings do not fall into the same high tech category as ventilators which after all only provide air. They are both aggressive, modern interventions that would never have been possible not so very long ago.
Had Terri Schiavo gone into a persistent vegetative state half a century ago, she would not have survived anymore than if someone in respiratory failure didn't have access to negative or positive pressure ventilation.
Administering enteral tube feedings is much more than just giving food and water.