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July 30, 2005

A response to the claim that Maria Korp was 'not absorbing' food and water


Some news reports have stated that Maria Korp was unable to absorb food from her tube feedings in any event before they were stopped, meaning that the cessation of tube feeding is not killing her and that she was inevitably dying within a very short time. E.g.,

Mr Gardner said Mrs Korp would die soon even if her feeding was not stopped. With her body unable to process food and rejecting it naturally, he rejected claims that Mrs Korp would starve to death.

As this quotation indicates, the claim is that the Public Advocate, Julian Gardner, said that Maria is entirely unable to process food and is "rejecting it." I have now received e-mail indicating that some are being confused by these reports into thinking that Maria is not being killed by dehydration from the cessation of tube feedings.

My previous post showing Gardner's connection to BWV indicates that Gardner is not, in any event, averse to dehydrating people to death--in fact, he regards such deaths as "natural." But as it happens, he did not actually say that Maria was literally unable to absorb nutrition from her tube feedings.

As far as I have been able to discover, here is the quotation from which the idea arose that Maria was "unable to absorb food." (If anyone finds another direct quotation from Gardner, as opposed to another indirect news report, in which he says that Maria is "not able to absorb food," please post it below.)

According to medical information revealed by Mr Gardner yesterday, Mrs Korp is dying. Some of the brutal injuries from the February attack have not healed, her muscle tone is fading, her weight is falling, and her lungs and other organs are struggling to function. Her limbs had become stiff, requiring nurses to force them aside when she was washed. She suffered oxygen loss to her brain and has severe brain damage.

"Her body is not able to absorb and process the food (fed through a tube) in a way that maintains her condition, let alone improves her condition," Mr Gardner said. "The doctors' view is that her condition is terminal."

But note that Gardner does not here say that Maria cannot absorb food, full stop. Instead he says that she "is not able to absorb and process the food...in a way that maintains her condition." This is hardly the same thing. His argument, apparently, is that her condition was in various ways growing worse even prior to the cessation of food and water. Several of the changes he cites (loss of muscle tone, stiffening of limbs, and even some weight loss) are not indications of a person who is imminently dying and unable to absorb food but rather would be expected in a person in an unconscious or semi-conscious state, bedridden for several months, especially without physical therapy. The failure of wounds to heal, again, need not at all mean that she was not absorbing any nutrition from her feeding tube, and the "laboring" of her lungs need not mean that either. It is worth noting that, despite the claim that her lungs and internal organs are "struggling to function," she has lived already several days now without any food or water, so she obviously was not dying imminently in the sense that many of us would use the term "imminent."

There is strong counterevidence to any claim that Maria was unable to absorb her feedings, and much of this counterevidence comes from Mr. Gardner himself. For example, in his initial self-justifying statement, Mr. Gardner said that the food and water were "no longer sustaining her life but rather...prolonging her dying." Now, this sounds grand and profound, but what it amounts to is an admission that she was absorbing food and water from the tube feedings! For if she were not, the tube feedings could not "prolong" anything! In other words, they were doing what food and water are supposed to do--preventing her from dying of dehydration and starvation. Similarly, an indirect quotation in another article cites him as saying that she would die "soon" anyway but that the withdrawal of food and fluids would "hasten" her death and "stop her suffering." What could the reference to "hastening her death" possibly mean if she had not been absorbing any of the nutrition or hydration from the tube feedings? If that were true, then stopping the feedings would not in fact hasten her death.

Consider, too, the highly significant fact that the estimates of the time it will take her to die have been made from the time the feedings were stopped and follow exactly the pattern we saw with Terri, the pattern one would expect for death from dehydration as a result of the removal of food and fluids. The initial estimates were of 1-3 weeks from the cessation of food and water, and these were confirmed by Mr. Gardner in an early interview.

Again, she was clearly not expected to die swiftly of some other cause before dying of dehydration.

Finally, the medical testimony from mid-June is highly relevant: Her doctor at that time stated to the court that people in Maria's condition live two to five years on average and that the main factor in how long she would be expected to live was whether she continued to receive food and fluids!

This shows that even at that time it was anticipated that Mr. Gardner might very well make the decision he has in fact made and that this would then result in her death from dehydration, not from some other cause.

Well-meaning pro-lifers often set up exceptions to the statement that one should never withdraw food and water from someone. These have in the past included the claim that it is okay to do so if the person is "terminal," "imminently dying," or if the person's body "is unable to absorb food." We have seen how "terminal" and "imminently dying" have been taken over by the pro-euthanasia medical establishment and redefined so that people can really be dehydrated to death under an exception that was intended only to apply when the person would die of something else in an extremely short time, before he could die of dehydration. I suspect that something similar is now happening with the phrase "unable to absorb food" and that Mr. Gardner's statement (and its naive use by the media) shows the way: If a person is losing muscle tone or in some other way "going downhill," even if tube feedings are still nourishing him, we may now be told that his body is "unable to absorb food in such a way as to maintain his condition." This will then be shortened, as it has been in the news accounts about Maria, to "unable to absorb food," and even good pro-lifers and activists will heave a sigh of relief and think, "Oh, well, then, that's different. That's okay. He couldn't benefit from the tube feedings anyway."

We must keep our eye on the ball in these terminological juggling games. I predict that whenever pro-life people come up with an exception to the rule against withdrawing food and water, the phrase describing that exception will be used confusingly in cases where it was never intended to apply. Let us be alert. In particular, I advise anyone who has put into a living will that it is okay to withdraw food and water "if my body is unable to absorb it" to re-think that wording and to find some other, wordier, more careful expression so as to rule out re-definition of the sort we have seen here.

And let us continue to pray for Maria Korp in her slow death by dehydration.

Cross posted at Truth & Action.

Posted by lydia at July 30, 2005 10:33 AM

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I think you've hit the nail squarely on the head. I really don't mean to speak in hyperbole, but except for a few flourishes of adjectives on how lovely a death dehydration is, Gardener sounds an awful lot like Felos. Why is he getting a pass for doing what he is doing from the pro-life crowd? Am I wrong, anyone?

Posted by: Tom Spence at July 30, 2005 9:06 PM

Umm, stupid question, but assuming the guy was telling the truth, that the lady's body was shutting down naturally and refusing the liquids and nutrition being offered to it, what the hell point was there in undoing the tubes and going through all of this? Why not just leave them there until the lady has left this earth in her own good time?
The straight answer to 'she's not using it anyway' is 'well theres no hassle or loss to anyone if it stays where it is then'.
That Gardner bloke has made a real self-defeating (and self-damning) statement and IF he's telling the truth, then the only conceivable remaining reason for removal of the tubes is to cause suspiscion and distress to the relatives.

Posted by: Cheryl at July 31, 2005 4:39 AM


To be very clear, I've used phrases like "withdrawal of food and water." In fact, the media reported--truly, as far as I know--that the PEG itself was left in, as the surgery to remove it was pointless, just as you say. What they have done is just to...stop giving her any food and water. Nothing. Supposedly they are moistening her mouth, but that's it. She is expected to die in the standard 2 weeks or so, just as usual in dehydration cases.

I think Gardner probably chose his words very carefully--"not able to process the food *in such a way*..." etc. I would guess he has had training as a lawyer and does this sort of thing almost instinctively. Not a lie _exactly_, but giving a very misleading impression to justify himself which has indeed caused confusion both in the media and in the general public.

Posted by: Lydia at July 31, 2005 8:36 AM

This remains an interesting situation. The claim that was made that Maria was not absorbing the nutrition has definitely placed it in the minds of people that Maria was terminal anyway. It has indeed created a situation that is untenable because people are being misled by those very comments.

Food and water should never be withdrawn from a patient, unless there is absolute proof that to continue feeding is not in the best interests of the patient. This applies to a minority of situations and the doctors must be guided in making the correct decisions.

The Korp case is yet another example of how the euthanasia movement is attempting to pull the wool over people's eyes.

Lydia has done well to tease out the euphemisms that have been hidden in the words of Julian Gardner.

I do not see Gardner as another George Felos. He is not running around the countryside looking for victims to kill because he has a fetish for looking at dead people. All the same I am disappointed over the attitudes that are taking hold in Victoria.

Posted by: Maggie4Life [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 1, 2005 5:59 PM

"I am advised that Mrs Korp died peacefully without pain after receiving best medical practice palliative care," Mr Gardner said.

"Having monitored her treatment closely, I am very satisfied with and appreciative of the medical treatment team at the Alfred Hospital who, prior to moving to palliative care, made every effort to stabilise Mrs Korp's poor medical condition. On behalf of Mrs Korp I thank the Alfred Hospital staff for their excellent care."

"At this very sad time I offer my condolence and sympathies to all of the family and friends of Mrs Korp."

Mr Gardner said he did not believe any family members were with Mrs Korp when she died.

"Some members have been in earlier...," he said.

The Public Advocate said he had not yet spoken to Mrs Korp's doctor and could not comment on her cause of death.

On July 27, Mr Gardner authorised the removal of the feeding tube that had been keeping Mrs Korp alive on advice that her condition was terminal and would not improve.

At the time he predicted she would die within two weeks.

Mrs Korp was found unconscious in the the boot of her car near the Shrine of Remembrance on February 13, four days after she had been reported missing.

She had been choked and has been in vegetative state ever since.


Posted by: Maggie4Life [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2005 5:14 PM