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Study identifies a lack of guidelines on the handling of end-of-life fasting

End-of-life fasting has become a relevant topic for healthcare professionals working in the area of end-of-life care. A ZHAW study identifies the lack of a systematic approach to the handling of the voluntary stopping of eating and drinking.

Healthcare professionals are increasingly being confronted by patients who wish to end their lives by voluntarily stopping eating and drinking. Voluntarily forgoing food and drink allows such patients to accelerate the timing of their death and thus to avoid unbearable suffering.

Until now, there has been no systematic approach to dealing with this issue in Switzerland. There is a lack of regulation within institutions and a shortage of knowledge at a professional level. This means, among other things, that individuals who express their desire to die by voluntarily stopping eating and drinking or who refuse to take on nourishment without expressing this wish are treated on an individual basis. This situation carries risks. On the one hand, there is uncertainty with respect to whether these individuals are allowed to be treated within the institution, which options are available to the specialists and what the best possible care actually looks like. On the other, it can lead to instances in which people who tacitly forgo the intake of nourishment are considered as being in the processing of dying although this is not the case. It is therefore possible that people die who could have been helped through the provision of therapy.

The ZHAW study “Voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (VSED) in Switzerland from different points of view” looked at how healthcare professionals accompany and support people in voluntarily forgoing food and drink. In a recent publication in the BMC Palliative Care open access journal, the results of the ZHAW study are presented and the call for a systematic approach for the handling of the voluntary stopping of eating and drinking is discussed.