A Christian Approach to Feeding Tube

Close up of Asian elderly women patient's hand on a drip receiving a saline solution holding on to the bed in hospital

A feeding tube generally comes in two varieties: a gastrostomy tube installed directly into the abdomen and a nasogastric tube which is installed through the nasal cavity and into the stomach. There are other types of tube-feeding, but these are the most common.

A number of conditions may raise the issue of whether to start tube-feeding. Some medical conditions may significantly reduce or eliminate the ability to swallow. This would make tube-feeding necessary. Residents in extended care facilities who require spoon-feeding by staff personnel are sometimes placed on tube-feeding to reduce the demand on staff time.

The debate over the provision of tube-feeding is often expressed in clichés and exaggeration intended to mask the fundamental issue. Common arguments against tube-feeding include the notion that it is unnatural and is considered modern technology. For those reasons, some feel it intrudes on what would be termed a “natural” death.

Tube-feeding is not exactly modern technology. It has been used for over 100 years. Tube-feeding is also no more “unnatural” than insulin for the diabetic, nitroglycerin for the heart patient, and dialysis for those with kidney failure. All of these represent advancements in medicine that help us care for and prolong human life.

The underlying arguments usually center around quality-of-life issues and the economy of time and resources. Tube-fed patients often have a decreased quality of life and are greater drains on financial resources and the schedules of loved ones. Society, in general, is finding these problems to be sufficient justification to discourage tube-feeding or discontinue it. A Christian, however, must first look to what God’s Word has to say.

The Biblical Principles That Apply Here Are As Follows:

✝ 1.  Human life has varying degrees of quality as a result of sin in the world.

(Matthew 15:30)  Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.

✝ 2.  It is the natural tendency of sinful human beings to look differently at people based on their quality of life.

(Luke 14:12-14)  Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

✝ 3.  God shows equal love to all people regardless of their quality of life.

(John 3:16)  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

✝ 4.  God wants us to reflect his impartiality in dealing with all people.

(James 2:1)  My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.

✝ 5.  God is the author of life and death.

(1 Samuel 2:6)  The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.

In applying these principles, God’s Word illustrates that taking action with the “specific intent” to end human life, such as stopping the administration of food and water in any form, is wrong.

God’s Word also shows us that failing to help someone care for his body and life is equally wrong.

There are, however, medical conditions in which tube-feeding is either not possible or futile. For example, a patient with an inoperable intestinal tumor may not be able to process food and fluids. To force any type of feeding would most likely antagonize and accelerate the dying process.

There are also situations in which, in the course of tube-feeding, the patient develops a medical condition and death is imminent. In other words, no matter what is done, death is expected to occur within the next few hours or days. In this circumstance, the withholding of food and fluids does not contribute to the dying process.

In summary, when food and fluids sustain life, they are to be provided regardless of the patient’s quality of life. If such feeding, however, is not possible or futile, one is not obliged to pursue it.

[Taken from the supplement of the Power of Attorney for Health Care – Christian Version document created for each state by Christian Life Resources – available here]

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