The Ethical Issues With Tube Feeding: Right Or Wrong?

The Ethical Issues With Tube Feeding: Right Or Wrong?


Gloria Hao Schneider

Most of us know it as tube feeding, but doctors can also refer to it as Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy (PEG). As opposed to most kinds of surgery, it is a safe, uncomplicated and a routine procedure. But whether it’s a simple procedure or not is not the issue at stake. PEG is the focus of some ethical questions in today’s health care industries.

Unlike every other method of feeding, PEG feeding does not require the consent of the person undergoing the treatment. For the most part, PEG is a form of forced feeding and is used in nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities. Since their development about a quarter of a century ago, PEG tubes have become widely used. Originally designed to provide nourishment to children, PEG tubes are now frequently used in senior adults who have diseases or conditions that make it difficult to swallow or eat voluntarily. PEG is a complex issue because it implements forced feeding which is done without the consent of the patient usually towards the end of their life when they have basically become invalid.


Most complications are minor and occur in small percentage of cases. Usually, these involve easily treatable and non-threatening wound infections, along with bleeding or abdominal pain. Clogging can also be an issue with PEGs. Accidental or deliberate removal of the tube by the patient is another common complication. Restraints may be required in order to prevent patients from pulling out the tube. Major complications are rare, occurring in only 1-2. The risk of death increases markedly with age. Infection is a rare, though a potentially serious complication. Even rarer complications are severe bleeding and intestinal obstruction.

Several medical studies question the actual benefit of PEGs to the patient undergoing this procedure and feel that this unnecessarily prolongs the pain and suffering of the patient. Especially in regards to elderly citizens with dementia, these patients are the highest percentage that goes through PEG procedures. There is also an alarmingly high death rate for patients within one month of receiving PEGs. It is crucial for patients, friends, and family to have a full discussion with their doctor before a PEG procedure is performed. The goal should be a clear understanding of the medical goals and moral dilemma behind the issue. Assisted Living facilities understand what a delicate matter the use of PEGs is and ensure that their patients undergo procedures that will benefit them and addresses the problems of their medical conditions. The procedures and medications utilized by assisted living facilities to care for patients are discussed with the patients themselves as well as their families so everyone is well aware and informed.

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Assisted Living Marketing services are provided by, a leading referral system in the Assisted Living Industry. For more information, call 1-800-768-8221.

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