Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Information and Resources

Questions and Answers: Artificial Nutrition and Hydration and End of Life Decision Making

Can artificial nutrition and hydration be stopped once it has been started?

Yes. As with any other medical treatment, stopping treatment is both legally and ethically appropriate if treatment is of no benefit to the patient or it is unwanted. In fact, the law requires that treatment be stopped if the patient does not want it. If it were not possible to stop treatment once started, patients might not receive treatment that might be helpful for fear it could not be stopped later.

In practice, however, caregivers often have a more difficult time stopping a treatment that has been started than simply not starting it. Stopping a treatment makes some caregivers feel as if they are in some way "killing" the patient. It is important for health caregivers, family members, and surrogates to remember that it is the underlying disease that is causing death. The treatment is prolonging the dying process.

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

National Caregiving Organizations

AARP Administration on Aging Alzheimer's Association Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving Eldercare Locator Family Caregiver Alliance Housing and Urban Development Medicare National Alliance for Caregiving National Center for Assisted Living National Hospice and Palliative Care Center Supportive Ho...

Read the National Caregiving Organizations article > >

Conflicts about stopping artificial nutrition and hydration often arise because the patient's wishes are not clearly known or the patient has not designated an agent to make decisions for him. Some state laws also may create obstacles to stopping treatment. In situations of uncertainty, the usual fallback position is to continue treatment. Conflicts also may occur because the patient's healthcare provider believes that it is never appropriate to stop or withhold artificial nutrition and hydration. It is important that individuals talk to their doctors and loved ones about their wishes regarding the use of artificial nutrition and hydration at the end of life so they will be honored.

Can anything be done if the doctor insists on providing artificial nutrition and hydration?

Yes. If individuals have made their wishes known, the doctor must honor those wishes or transfer their care to another doctor who will honor them. To keep this kind of conflict from developing, it is wise for people to talk with their physicians before a medical crisis arises, if possible, so they know their physician will honor their end-of-life choices.

Is it considered suicide to refuse artificial nutrition and hydration? Is it considered suicide to refuse artificial nutrition and hydration?

No. When a person is refusing life-sustaining treatment at the end of life, including artificial nutrition and hydration, it is not considered an act of suicide. A person at the end of life is dying, not by choice, but because of a particular condition or disease. Continuing treatment may delay the moment of death but cannot change the underlying condition.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Can you catch one?
Woman sitting in front of UV lights
Is yours working?
woman using breath spray
What's causing yours?
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
bowl of yogurt with heart shape
Eat for a healthy heart.
woman doing pushups
To help you get fit.
Colored x-ray of tooth decay
Know what to look for.
Woman sitting with child
Do you know the symptoms?
mosquito
Stings, bites, burns, and more.
Allentown, PA
Are you living in one?
Thyroid exam
See how much you know.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.