Thursday, March 24, 2005

Starvation -- "...a very smooth, graceful and elegant way to go."

So reads an article carried in today's Roanoke Times (unavailable on-line there, but accessible at The Los Angeles Times website. Since a sign-in process is necessary to access the article, here are excerpts.)

Ceasing Food and Fluid Can Be Painless

By Karen Kaplan and Rosie Mestel, Times Staff Writers

In the evolving saga of Terri Schiavo, the prospect of the 41-year-old Florida woman suffering a slow and painful death from starvation has been a galvanizing force.

But medical experts say going without food and water in the last days and weeks of life is as natural as death itself. The body is equipped with its own resources to adjust to death, they say...

"What my patients have told me over the last 25 years is that when they stop eating and drinking, there's nothing unpleasant about it -- in fact it can be quite blissful and euphoric," said Dr. Perry G. Fine, vice president of medical affairs at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in Arlington, Va. "It's a very smooth, graceful and elegant way to go."

But even if [Terri Schiavo's] brain were functioning normally and she were aware of her condition, she would be comfortable, doctors say.

"The word `starve' is so emotionally loaded," Fine said. "People equate that with the hunger pains they feel or the thirst they feel after a long, hot day of hiking. To jump from that to a person who has an end-stage illness is a gigantic leap."

"The cessation of eating and drinking is the dominant way that mammals die," said Dr. Ira Byock, director of palliative medicine at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. "It is a very gentle way that nature has provided for animals to leave this life."

"Total starvation is not painful or uncomfortable at all." Sullivan said doctors are likely to give some [morphine] to Schiavo, although, "frankly, I think they might as well give it to each other, because it will probably be more painful for them than it will be for her."