Questions & Answers: Advance Directives and End of Life Decisions
If I refuse life support, will I still receive treatment for any pain I might have?
Many people mistakenly think that by refusing aggressive medical treatments
they could be refusing all medical care. This is not the case. A dying person
needs medical care, but care whose goal is comfort, not cure. This often is
called "palliative care."
It is not just pain medication, although pain management is an important
part of palliative care. It also can include medications for depression and
anxiety, or even surgery, radiation, antibiotics, or other treatments that
normally are used to cure, but in this case are used to make the person more
comfortable. Palliative care is care for the whole person and so may also
include spiritual and social supports and well as support for those caring for
Can I refuse artificial nutrition and hydration (tube feeding)?
Yes. Artificial nutrition and hydration (often called "tube
feeding") are life-sustaining treatments, and your refusal is protected
under the law. Much as a ventilator supports breathing or a dialysis machine
replaces kidney function, tube feeding provides nutrition and fluid to the
As with other treatments, artificial nutrition and hydration can be used
temporarily until the person can eat and drink again. Some people depend
permanently on artificial nutrition and hydration, and still find life to be
rewarding and meaningful.
On the other hand, difficulties about the use of artificial nutrition and
hydration arise when patients are terminally ill or have suffered irreversible
Is it painful to stop artificial nutrition and hydration?
No. Contrary to some claims, stopping artificial nutrition and hydration in
dying, brain-damaged, or permanently unconscious patients does not result in
painful death. A growing body of evidence shows that avoiding or withdrawing
artificial nutrition and hydration allows a peaceful and pain-free death.
Avoiding forced feeding in someone who is too sick to eat or drink is vastly
different from keeping food and water away from a healthy person who is hungry
and thirsty. Symptoms, such as dry mouth, can be managed with palliative care
WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization