Hilary White

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Death by Dehydration Symptoms Regarded as “Cruel and Violent” in 1986 Brophy Case

Hilary White

March 23, 2005 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In 1986, a 45-year-old Massachusetts fire fighter named Paul Brophy was starved and dehydrated to death at the request of his family. Like Terri Schiavo, he had also been diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state,” by his doctors after suffering an aneurysm. Patricia Brophy, his wife and court appointed guardian, seven brothers and sisters, and five adult children all argued that Mr. Brophy would not have wanted continued treatment in his condition.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court accepted the judgment of the family, despite the fact that Paul Brophy had never expressed his medical treatment preferences in writing, and never explicitly referred to artificial feeding in his conversations.

When Michael Schiavo appeared on the television show, Larry King Live, he said that dying by dehydration was ‘dying with dignity.’ He told King, “It’s painless, and probably the most natural way to die. It is a very easy way to die, probably the second best way to die, the first being an aneurysm.”

Many commentators have included the term ‘death with dignity’ in describing Terri’s impending death. Numerous newspaper editorials and letters to the editor have included references to ‘just letting her go.’ The medical effects, however, of a death by dehydration might give most of these people pause. Paul Brophy’s attending physician described death by dehydration as cruel and violent.

One judge in the Brophy case dissented from the decision and included in his statements a portion of the evidence given by medical experts describing the effects of dehydration.

The removal of a nutrition and hydration tube, wrote Judge Lynch of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, would likely create some or all of the following effects before death.

The mouth would dry out and become caked or coated with thick material.

The lips would become parched and cracked.
The tongue would swell, and might crack.
The eyes would recede back into their orbits and the cheeks would become hollow.
The lining of the nose might crack and cause the nose to bleed.
The skin would hang loose on the body and become dry and scaly.
The urine would become highly concentrated, leading to burning of the bladder.
The lining of the stomach would dry out and the sufferer would experience dry heaves and vomiting.
The body temperature would become very high.
The brain cells would dry out, causing convulsions.
The respiratory tract would dry out, and the thick secretions that would result could plug the lungs and cause death.
At some point within five days to three weeks the major organs, including the lungs, heart, and brain, would give out and the patient would die.

With files from Catholics in the Public Square.

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