Background: withholding or withdrawing artificial administration of food and fluids, especially in incompetent patients, has been the subject of turbulent discussions. Insight into this practice may be useful in the debate, and also in the development of guidelines. Objectives: to gain insight into the frequency and circumstances of forgoing artificial administration of food and fluids in nursing homes. Design: we sent a written questionnaire to the nursing-home physicians of a stratified sample of 6060 people who died in the Netherlands in 1995, and interviewed a random sample of 74 nursing-home physicians. Setting: Dutch nursing homes. Main outcome measures: incidence of withholding or withdrawing artificial administration of food, patient characteristics and features of the decision-making process. Results: in 23% of deaths in nursing homes, artificial administration of food and fluids were foregone. In two-thirds of cases, life was shortened by 1 week at most. The decision was almost always discussed with competent patients. In the case of incompetent patients, the decision was almost always discussed with the patient's relatives. Frequently mentioned considerations in the decision were: the patient's (presumed) wish, low quality of life, no prospect of improvement and the desire not unnecessarily to prolong life. Conclusions: artificial administration of food and fluids is one of the most frequently forgone treatments in nursing homes. In general, the physician involves the patient or the patient's relatives and the nursing staff in the decision-making. In most cases, the nursing-home physicians thought that the decision to forgo artificial administration of food and fluids improved the patient's quality of dying.

Decision-making, Enteral nutrition, Nursing homes, Withholding/withdrawing treatment
dx.doi.org/10.1093/ageing/30.6.459, hdl.handle.net/1765/67650
Age and Ageing
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B.D, Pasman, H.R, Kruit, A, van der Heide, A, Ribbe, M, & van der Wal, G. (2001). Withholding or withdrawing artificial administration of food and fluids in nursing-home patients. Age and Ageing, 30(6), 459–465. doi:10.1093/ageing/30.6.459