Stopping Eating and Drinking -- Four Major Determinants of How Long it Takes|
(1) The state of nutrition of the patient--if someone has already lost weight due to a chronic ailment and is emaciated, the process may take only a few days. If the patient is well nourished, it will take two weeks if no liquid is ingested -- or longer depending on fluids taken.
(2) The key determinant is hydration. People can go weeks or months without eating, but only about 10 days without hydration. If the patient gets supplemental fluids, or a lot of ice chips frequently, it takes much longer. Within 3 days of no (none) hydration the daily urine output should be below 50 ml, and renal shutdown begins.
(3) Supplemental medical therapy is necessary. This method is not good if the patient cannot get good palliative care--adequate morphine or lorazipam to alleviate hunger and, especially, thirst.
(4) If the patient is in hospice, and stops food and fluids, after a day or two the hospice nurses almost always become sympathetic and administer the meds necessary to eliminate virtually all symptoms, and commonly give enough to sedate the patient. When done optimally, with a patient who is not well hydrated or nourished to begin with, it usually is over in a week or less.
Chabot, B. A Hastened Death by Self-Denial of Food and Drink
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Terman, S. The Best Way to Say Goodbye. www.CaringAdvocates.org
Preston, T. Patient-Directed Dying iUniverse, pg 77-86. See www.tomprestonmd.com