Whether or not artificial nutrition or hydration (ANH) may be forgone in terminally ill patients has been the subject of medical and ethical discussions. Information about the frequency and background characteristics of making decisions to forgo ANH is generally limited to specific clinical settings. The aim of this study was to compare the practice of forgoing ANH in six European countries: Belgium, Denmark, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland. In each country, random samples were drawn from death registries. Subsequently, the reporting physician received a questionnaire about the medical decisions that preceded the patient's death. The total number of deaths studied was 20,480. The percentage of all deaths that were preceded by a decision to forgo ANH varied from 2.6% in Italy to 10.9% in The Netherlands. In most countries, decisions to forgo ANH were more frequently made for female patients, patients aged 80 years or older, and for patients who died of a malignancy or disease of the nervous system (including dementia). Of patients in whom ANH was forgone, 67%-93% were incompetent. Patients in whom ANH was forgone did not receive more potentially life-shortening drugs to relieve symptoms than other patients for whom other end-of-life decisions had been made. Decisions to forgo ANH are made in a substantial percentage of terminally ill patients. Providing all patients who are in the terminal stage of a lethal disease with ANH does not seem to be a widely accepted standard among physicians in Western Europe.

Withholding/withdrawing treatment, artificial nutrition or hydration, decision making, end of life
dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2006.12.006, hdl.handle.net/1765/36255
Journal of Pain and Symptom Management
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Buiting, H.M, van Delden, J.J.M, Rietjens, J.A.C, Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B.D, Bilsen, J, Fischer, S, … van der Heide, A. (2007). Forgoing Artificial Nutrition or Hydration in Patients Nearing Death in Six European Countries. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 34(3), 305–314. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2006.12.006