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 What happens when artificial nutrition and hydration is given to patients who are at the end of life?
When someone with a serious, life-limiting illness is no longer able to eat or drink it usually means that the body is beginning to stop functioning. Artificial nutrition and hydration will not bring the person back to a healthy state.
Most doctors agree that artificial nutrition and hydration can increase suffering in patients who are dying and no longer have the ability or interest to eat food and drink liquids themselves. Artificial nutrition and hydration can add more discomfort to a dying person’s physical symptoms such as: bloating, swelling, cramps, diarrhea, and shortness or breath.
It is important to remember that the person’s body is beginning to shut down because of the disease and dying process, not because of the absence of food and liquid. There are ways to ensure a person’s comfort at the end of life by treating dry lips and mouth. Hospice and palliative care professionals are experts in providing comfort treatments.
Is it considered suicide to refuse artificial nutrition and hydration?
No. Everyone has the right to refuse or discontinue a medical treatment. A person at the end of life is dying, not by choice, but because of a particular disease. It is not considered suicide to refuse or stop a medical treatment that cannot bring back health.
What does the law say about artificial nutrition and hydration?
Legally, artificial nutrition and hydration is considered a medical treatment that may be refused at the end of life. If the patient is able to make decisions, the patient can tell his/her physician what he or she wants. For patients who can no longer talk about their wishes, some states demand strong evidence to show what the patient’s wishes are. When there is uncertainty or conflict about whether or not a person would want the medical treatment, treatment will usually be continued.
This is why completing and talking about your advance directive are important – so that there will be no doubt about what kind of medical treatments you would want or not want at the end of life.
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For more information, contact CaringInfo: HelpLine: 800.658.8898 • Multilingual Line: 877.658.8896 caringinfo@nhpco.org • www.caringinfo.org
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