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PEGs and Ethics Revisited: A Timely Reflection in the Wake of the Terri Schiavo Case

Breier-Mackie, Sarah J. PhD, RN, APRN


Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy is an accepted technique for long-term enteral feeding. The demand of percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy placement continues to increase because of the increasing numbers of vulnerable patients with chronic diseases coupled with the relative ease of insertion, and societal ambivalence about such treatment. Despite the demand and improvements in placement technique, the issue of tube feeding in vulnerable patients remains an ethical minefield, leading to considerable discussion and debate. This contentious area of clinical ethics is further complicated by the recent papal allocution regarding artificial nutrition and hydration. The case of Terri Schiavo should serve as a timely reminder of those problematic clinical and ethical issues inherent in percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy placement and feeding in vulnerable patients.

Sarah J. Breier-Mackie, PhD, RN, APRN, is Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing and Clinical Ethicist, Sinclair School of Nursing, University of Missouri—Columbia.

Correspondence to: Sarah J. Breier-Mackie, PhD, RN, APRN, S443 MU Sinclair School of Nursing, University of Missouri—Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211 (e-mail:

This article was written as a follow-up to “PEGs and Ethics,” which appeared in Gastroenterology Nursing, 24(3), 138–142.

For additional discussion on the potential derogatory interpretations of the term “PVS,” see Borthwick (1995).

© 2005 by the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates, Inc.