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Artificial hydration and alimentation at the end of life: a reply to Craig.
  1. M Ashby,
  2. B Stoffell
  1. Royal Adelaide Hospital, Australia.


    Dr Gillian Craig (1) has argued that palliative medicine services have tended to adopt a policy of sedation without hydration, which under certain circumstances may be medically inappropriate, causative of death and distressing to family and friends. We welcome this opportunity to defend, with an important modification, the approach we proposed without substantive background argument in our original article (2). We maintain that slowing and eventual cessation of oral intake is a normal part of a natural dying process, that artificial hydration and alimentation (AHA) are not justified unless thirst or hunger are present and cannot be relieved by other means, but food and fluids for (natural) oral consumption should never be 'withdrawn'. The intention of this practice is not to alter the timing of an inevitable death, and sedation is not used, as has been alleged, to mask the effects of dehydration or starvation. The artificial provision of hydration and alimentation is now widely accepted as medical treatment. We believe that arguments that it is not have led to confusion as to whether or not non-provision or withdrawal of AHA constitutes a cause of death in law. Arguments that it is such a cause appear to be tenuously based on an extraordinary/ordinary categorisation of treatments by Kelly (3) which has subsequently been interpreted as prescriptive in a way quite inconsistent with the Catholic moral theological tradition from which the distinction is derived. The focus of ethical discourse on decisions at the end of life should be shifted to an analysis of care, needs, proportionality of medical interventions, and processes of communication.

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