Marine Recruit Dehydrated to Death After Boot-camp Accident

By Peter J. Smith

PEACHTREE CITY, Georgia, July 11, 2007 ( - A Marine recruit who nearly drowned four years ago in boot-camp met his death after his family agreed to let doctors remove his feeding tube.

"He smiled all week [since the tube was removed]. It was the first time. He seemed so happy, not in pain," his mother, Melia Isaac said of her son, who had been reduced to a comatose or minimal conscious state.

"I’m going to wonder for the rest of my life if I did the right thing. But I believe I did. He didn’t have much of a life anymore. It was time to let go."

Josh Isaac was training at the US Marines Parris Island boot camp in South Carolina June 30, 2003, when he stopped breathing after leaping into a pool from a 10 foot platform during a routine combat survival class. Isaac went without air to his brain for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, which the Marines concluded could result in irreversible damage in a report.

Exactly four years to the day after the accident, doctors removed Josh Isaac’s feeding tube and he died a week later at Dogwood Health and Rehabilitation Center in Fairburn. His funeral was held today in Peachtree City.

However, pro-life advocates pointed out that the manner of Isaac’s death carries many similarities to Terri Schiavo’s dehydration death in 2005 after her feeding tube was similarly withdrawn.

"You dehydrate somebody not because they’re in pain, but because either A: they’re dying, or B: their life is not worth living," Alex Schadenberg, a bioethics expert from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition told 

Schadenberg noted that any arguments to remove Isaac’s feeding tube on account of "pain" does not make sense, since modern medicine can treat every sort of pain except neuropathic pain. If Isaac were truly in pain, it would cast doubt on the quality of care given him by medical professionals, who should have been able to make him pain-free.

Isaac died nearly 8 days after the feeding tube was withdrawn. Although medical science indicates the body on average takes 10-14 days to experience organ failure from dehydration, reports and Melia’s own statement indicate that the removal of the feeding either caused or expedited Isaac’s organ failure, indicating that he did not die a natural death. According to Schadenberg, removing the feeding tube would have been morally licit if Isaac was about to die of natural causes, but it could never be the direct cause of his death.

"Allowing them to die naturally is morally fine; causing their death is morally wrong," said Schadenberg. "By intentionally dehydrating them that’s an intentional causation of death."

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