Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking
At this moment, 13 states have “Death With Dignity” laws that allow patients who are close to dying to take medication to end their lives. But even in those states, that option is not always available and so some patients make the decision to hasten their death by not eating or drinking. Usually people do this when they feel that their body is starting to fail, their quality of life is not acceptable to them anymore, and they are just done.
Not eating or drinking hastens the dying process by shutting down the kidneys. Stopping eating isn’t that difficult because most people at this stage in their illness don’t feel that hungry. It’s the thirst that can be the most uncomfortable. People can suck on ice chips and moisten their mouth with sips of water but they have to realize that if they want to go quickly, they should drink as little water as possible.
I had a patient who was at the end stage of his esophageal cancer and there was a chance that the cancer would cause bleeding in his throat as it progressed. Rather than wait for the tumor to get bigger and make things awful for him, he said, “I just want to get out of here and I want to know how to do it.”
He stopped eating and drinking, took regular doses of pain medication and anxiety medication to be more comfortable and to help him sleep. I had told he and his wife that sometimes as the kidneys start to shut down people feel a mild euphoria. On my last visit his wife reported, “He’s doing pretty well, but he’s waiting for the euphoria.” She gave him his medication and we chatted a while. When I said good-bye, I bent to give him a kiss and he smiled. I asked, “Are you feeling euphoric?” And he nodded dreamily and answered, “Yes.”
The process generally usually takes from ten days to two weeks for a person to die once they stop eating and drinking depending on how hydrated the person already is.