Polemical Note: Can it Be Unethical to Provide Nutrition and Hydration to Patients with Advanced Dementia?

Main Article Content

Rachel Haliburton


Patients suffering from advanced dementia present ethicists and caregivers with a difficult issue: we do not know how they feel or how they want to be treated, and they have no way of telling us. We do not know, therefore, whether we ought to prolong their lives by providing them with nutrition and hydration, or whether we should not provide them with food and water and let them die. Since providing food and water to patients is considered to be basic care that is morally required, it is usually only the provision of nutrition and hydration by artificial means that is considered to require ethical justification. Building on what I call a virtue-based conception of autonomy, I argue that, at least for some patients suffering from advanced dementia, even providing food and liquid by hand is morally wrong.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Haliburton, Rachel. 2016. “Polemical Note: Can It Be Unethical to Provide Nutrition and Hydration to Patients With Advanced Dementia?”. Diametros, no. 50 (December):152-60. https://doi.org/10.13153/diam.50.2016.981.
Author Biography

Rachel Haliburton, University of Sudbury

Rachel Haliburton, PhDAssociate ProfessorDepartment of PhilosophyUniversity of SudburySudbury, ON  P3E 2C6Canada

E-mail: rhaliburton@usudbury.ca

Share |


Elliot [1999] – C. Elliot, A Philosophical Disease: Bioethics, Culture, and Identity, Routledge, New York 1999.

Hopper [2014] – T. Hopper, “Alzheimer’s Patient’s Desire To Die Denied By B.C. Court, Family Says She Is Force Fed In Nursing Home,” National Post, February 4, 2014.

Marcus, Golan, Goodman [2016] – E.-L. Marcus, O. Golan, D. Goodman, “Ethical Issues Related To End Of Life Treatment In Patients With Advanced Dementia – The Case Of Artificial Nutrition and Hydration,” Diametros (50) 2016, p. 141–160.

Most read articles by the same author(s)