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Questions & Answers: Dying At Home

The Basics Does a person have the right to die at home?

Yes. The law permits individuals to refuse any type of medical care, including hospitalization, even if that decision would result in physical harm or death. Individuals can refuse to stay in hospitals and choose to return home even against medical advice.

For some who are too sick to benefit from continued medical treatment in the hospital, to die in the familiar and comfortable surroundings of home is considered reasonable, and might even be suggested by the doctor. Although most people today still die in healthcare facilities, an increasing number are choosing to die at home when their deaths are expected because of a critical illness or an advanced condition.

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Are there advantages to dying at home?

Yes, there are several.

  • Dying people often are psychologically more comfortable in a familiar environment, surrounded by caring family members and friends.
  • The home setting may offer a better environment for maximizing the quality of life that remains and for achieving personal closure.
  • Dying people retain a greater sense of control over their lives at home. They can live by their own schedules rather than those determined by institutional policy. For example, patients in hospitals receive their meals according to hospital schedules, whereas individuals at home can eat when they feel hungry. This sense of control can help the dying person maintain emotional well-being during the last weeks or days of life.
  • The home may be the ideal setting in which dying persons are able to say their final goodbyes to family and friends.

Are there disadvantages to dying at home?

Yes, there can be. Dying at home may require an able-bodied care giver. If a family member or friend cannot provide this care, homecare services may be needed.

The emotional stress of caring for a dying person may be overwhelming. Also, it may be frightening for both the dying persons and their families to be without the direct medical supervision available in a hospital, nursing home or inpatient hospice setting. Counseling by involved health professionals often helps to alleviate these problems by letting the family know what to expect and by reassuring them that appropriate assistance will be available if needed.

Can physicians refuse to treat a dying person at home?

Yes. Not all physicians are willing to care for patients at home. It is important to ask the dying patient's physician if he or she will provide care in the home and, if not, refer the patient to a physician who will.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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