Comparing the ethical challenges of forgoing tube feeding in American and Hong Kong patients with advanced dementia

M. C.S. Pang, L. Volicer, Pui Man Chung, Y. M.I. Chung, W. K.A. Leung, Peter White, Samantha M.C. Pang

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: To develop a cross-cultural dialogue for enriching our understanding of how an ethical environment can be constructed in fostering tube-feeding decisions in patients with advanced dementia (AD). Design & Data Source: Drawing on the findings of two prospective case studies conducted in Boston and Hong Kong, this paper compares the decision-making patterns of forgoing tube feeding for AD patients and their emergent ethical dilemmas typified in a special dementia care unit in Boston (BCU) and a long-term care unit in Hong Kong (HKCU). Findings: Differences in forgoing tube feeding decision are delineated in the two places. No-tube-feeding practice was sustained in BCU in two ways: advance decision-making with respect paid to the patient's wishes and advance proxy decision-making focused on patient comfort. With life preservation as the prevailing value in the Hong Kong medical system, only strong family request coupled with medical evidence of patient's ability to continue hand-feeding that tube feeding would be discontinued. All patients died with some form of artificial feeding. Conclusion: A paradigm shift of values underpinning the practice of forgoing tube feeding in the context of palliative care is observed in three aspects. First, the emphasis on prognostication based on biomedical markers in predicting the length of survival is shifted to a focus on the "diagnosis of dying". Second, the overriding concern in conventional medical practice with preserving life is shifting to an overriding concern of "what is best for the patient." Third, in the last days of life, the conventional approach of "trying to do everything for the patient" had shifted from a technological to a relational one. Palliative measures for relieving discomfort and providing a peaceful and dignified environment in which the patient could the are the primary concern. Although the predominant medical culture in Hong Kong is biomedical, voices from the patients and family members challenge this conventional practice, and suggest that the alternative model may be a better choice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-501
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Nutrition, Health and Aging
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2007


  • Advanced dementia
  • Cultural study
  • End-of-life care
  • Ethical challenge
  • Tube feeding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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