Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

June 23, 2005

Begging for Food, Starved by Court Order

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:00 pm

In the wake of the Terri Schiavo case and the recent autopsy report, it’s worth noting that Terri Schiavo’s state of consciousness was legally irrelevant to whether she could be starved to death or not. In 1995, Marjorie Nighbert was starved/dehydrated to death on the strength of a power of attorney, even though she was able to speak and literally begging for food.
As Wesley J. Smith wrote,

The worst of these cases of which I am aware is the tragic dehydration of Marjorie Nighbert. Marjorie was a successful businesswoman until a stroke left her disabled. She was unable to swallow safely, but not terminally ill. She was moved from Alabama to a nursing home in Florida where she would receive rehabilitation to help her relearn how to chew and swallow without danger of aspiration. A feeding tube was inserted to ensure that she was properly nourished during her recovery.

Marjorie had once told her brother Maynard that she didn’t want a feeding tube if she were terminally ill. Despite the fact that she was not dying, Maynard believed that she had meant that she would rather die by dehydration than live the rest of her life using a feeding tube. Accordingly, he ordered all of Marjorie’s nourishment stopped.

As she was slowly dehydrating to death, Marjorie began to beg the staff for food and water. Distraught nurses and staff members, not knowing what else to do, surreptitiously snuck her small amounts. One staffer — who was later fired for the deed — blew the whistle, leading to a hurried court investigation and a temporary restraining order requiring that Marjorie receive nourishment.

Circuit Court Judge Jere Tolton appointed attorney William F. Stone to represent Marjorie and gave him twenty-four hours to determine whether she was competent to rescind the general power of attorney she had given to Maynard before her stroke. After the rushed investigation, Stone was forced to report that Marjorie was not competent at that time. (She had, after all, been intentionally malnourished for several weeks.) Stone particularly noted that he had been unable to determine whether she had been competent at the time the dehydration commenced.

With Stone’s report in hand, Judge Tolton ruled that the dehydration should be completed! Before an appalled Stone could appeal, Marjorie died on April 6, 1995.

Indeed, the Washington Post reported on January 5, 1997,

Marjorie Nighbert, a 76-year-old Florida woman, was hospitalized in 1996 after a stroke. Before her hospital admission, she signed an advance directive that no “heroic measures” should be employed to save her life. On the basis of that directive and at the request of her family, the hospital denied Nighbert’s requests for food and water, according to reports in the Northwest Florida Daily News. A hurriedly convened hospital ethics committee ruled that she was “not medically competent to ask for such a treatment.” Until her death more than 10 days later, Nighbert was restrained in her bed to prevent her from raiding other patients’ food trays.

The legal theory on which Terri Schiavo was put to death was identical to that used for Marjorie Nighbert — not legally competent, and once said she wouldn’t want tubes.

8 Responses to “Begging for Food, Starved by Court Order”

  1. Greg P Says:

    As a neurologist, I see variations of this on a regular basis. Anyone that thinks this the greatest crime against humanity should immediately go out and establish a foundation to take over care of these people, pay for that, while paying the lawyers to fight the court cases — the lawyers will be happy.

    Meanwhile, thousands of women and children are dying of starvation in sub-Saharan Africa — but I guess that’s not our problem, is it?

  2. Different River Says:

    Dr. Greg P.: How is deliberately starving people in America going to help women and children are dying of starvation in sub-Saharan Africa? When you starve one of your patients to death, do you send the food they would have eaten to sub-Saharan Africa?

    As to your first question: There are already many foundations that pay for feeding people. Many of the patients concerned have enough money to pay for their own food; that’s why they have to be tied to their beds to make sure they starve. And, there are many attorneys working full-time on this, some as employees of non-profit foundations (such as ACLJ). Some other attorneys work pro bono on individual cases. Supporters of Terri Schiavo have in fact set up a foundation, which is called (imagine this) the The Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation.

    As for the barb, “Anyone that thinks this the greatest crime against humanity …”: Where is it written that we should only work against the one greatest crime against humanity? If I think that this is, say, the third-greatest or sixth-greatest crime against humanity, can I still work against it when possible?

    I think what you really meant to say is that you think this is not a crime against humanity at all, and is in fact perfectly OK. If that’s the case, you should have the courage to come out and say it.

  3. Greg P Says:

    Sooner or later, I would hope that Terri Schiavo can be left to rest in peace. I don’t know that she ever gave permission for her name, life and death to be used as the poster child for so many people’s angst about life and death. If her family has trouble with many issues in her situation, they need to speak of their own feelings, and work on their own spiritual healing. Bill Frist and Jeb Bush are not the higher powers.

  4. Different River Says:

    So you want them to establish a foundation, but you don’t want them to name it after someone? Has there ever been a requirement that people get permission from the deceased before naming a foundation after them? Did the Ryan White Foundation have permission to use Ryan White’s name? (Ryan White was one of the first cases of pediatric AIDS.) Did Lou Gehrig give permission for ALS to be called “Lou Gehrig’s disease”?

  5. Different River Says:

    Yes, they really do believe these things
    I’ve been getting some interesting comments on this blog, with people defending positions that I find utterly indefensible. While it is tempting to write these comments off as the rantings of fools and ignore (or even delete) them, the fact is that m…

  6. Mary Hinckley Says:

    My son was in a terrible motor cycle accident. One side of his head was quite insure. They said if he made it 24 hours he had a slight chance. He made it and his vitals were all good. He was unconsious but mostly by seditive and pain killers. I think. Immediately after the 24 hous they did a test without my permission. I was next of kin. They said his brain activity was not low enough and planned to do it again the next morning. I said no because it meant him going without his meds for 3 or 4 hours. He was in high stress after the first one. They called me early the following morning and said They had takedn the meds away again and was going to do the test again. through many calls to the hospital they continued the meds again. The rest of the story is too long to tell her. but within less than a week after going through God knows what agony theyhe was given the test because of famil against my wishes. maybe this f

  7. silivren Says:

    greg p, what does starving orphans have to do with Nighbert’s starvation? what you are suggesting is that nighbert has a good run before she was literally murdered, and that people should not litigate when these awful things happen becuase that money could be used to save dying oprhans in africa. well then, let’s all stop fighting for humane treatment for animals and zero gender discrimination because all thos funds could be channeled to dying orphans.

  8. JonBurge Says:

    This makes me just hate the world and all the horrible, rotten people in it.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress