Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking

Everyone has the right to refuse food and fluids until they die. Medical professionals can not force feed someone against their will. Typically the process takes about 2 weeks, but it can take longer for someone who is physically strong, and if the refusal of food and drink (especially drink) is not strictly adhered to.

Some people decide that this is the best way to control when they die. Examples include right-to-die campaigners Jean Davies, Debbie Purdy and Tony Nicklinson. It is recommended that anyone wishing to end their life in this way has someone to give them appropriate  support – one experienced hospice nurse explains “Patients require comforting physical support, for example, offering to provide lotion baths and helping with position changes, as well as continuous empathic support for the patient and family members throughout the process.”

Several useful academic articles discuss the process, for example:

Dr. Naomi Richards, of the University of Glasgow Dept. of End of Life Studies and Judith Schwarz writing in the Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing.

The practice of bringing about one’s own death by refusing to eat or drink is not new. In India, members of the Jain religion have practiced Santhara for well over 2000 years – which is essentially death by stopping eating and drinking. The practice has attracted recent controversy in India with Jains strongly defending the practice.

Advantages:

  • You choose the time when you start the process without requiring anyone else’s agreement.
  • It is legal
  • There are no legal repercussions for people who support you during the process.
  • You can die at home, or wherever you happen to be.

Disadvantages and Limitations:

  • The process is drawn out – not the simple “going to sleep and not waking up” at a time and place of their choosing, that some people feel would be a good death for them.
  • It requires determination and conviction to persist until the end.
  • There is likely to be discomfort during the process such as dry mouth and headaches.
  • There may be nobody prepared and able to provide the cooperative support required.

It is unclear how many people choose this approach – anecdotally one hears of many cases of people whose friends or relatives died this way, but there does not seem to be any reliable recording of this means of death.

MDMD understand why people may choose this option. However, we believe that people whose life is complete deserve a better, more compassionate way of ending life when they choose. Why should people be forced to suffer like this in their final days or weeks of life when we have medication available which could give them the good death they would like?