On the Nature of Tube Feeding: Basic Care or Medical Treatment?

Bibliographic information:

Clary, Erik. “On the Nature of Tube Feeding: Basic Care or Medical Treatment?” in Ethics and Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics, Vol. 26 (2) , 81-91.



One question that frequently arises in the discussion over the ethics of tube feeding involves the matter of categorization — is tube feeding basic or medical care? At its most fundamental level, this question requires an empirical judgment that is distinct from, though not irrelevant to, the ethical question (When, if at all, is it permissible to forego or withdraw tube feeding?). In this article, the nature of tube feeding is considered in light of the evidence that has accumulated in the published literature since the procedure was first reported in 1951. That evidence reveals tube feeding to bear several hallmarks of medical therapy, including its direction toward the sick and not the healthy, the application of medical knowledge and skills, the surgical implantation of a foreign body intended to counter the effects of debilitating disease, and the exposure of the recipient to significant risk of complications directly related to the intervention. It is concluded that tube feeding is properly considered medical care. Arguments for viewing tube feeding as basic care, which generally focus on the nature of the infusate or the personnel required to administer it, are addressed.


The Bioethics Press, Ltd (website: http://ethicsandmedicine.com/archive/26/2.php)

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