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Handbook for Mortals : Tube Feeding (Fluids and Food)

Why is it sometimes so hard to let a patient go without eating?

In all cultures and throughout all history, offering food has been a sign of caring and hospitality. Our mothers made sure we were well fed. Most people enjoy eating with family and friends, especially on special occasions. In most religions, food is part of sacred rituals. It is no wonder, then, when someone we love is unable to eat and drink naturally, that we feel compelled to "feed" them in some way. It seems to be basic caring.

But, as death approaches, you will not "keep up your strength" by forcing yourself to eat when it makes you uncomfortable. If eating is a social event for you, or providing food is one of the common ways of expressing caring in your family, your loss of appetite may be distressing to you and your loved ones. You might enjoy small amounts of home-cooked food, dishes that mean something special to you. However, you should also know that a decrease in appetite is natural and eating less may increase, rather than decrease, comfort.

Because most dying people are more comfortable without eating or drinking near the end of life, forcing food or liquids is usually not beneficial, especially if restraints, IVs, or hospitalization would be required. Not forcing someone to eat or drink is not letting him "starve to death."

The truth is, for those who are dying, the times come when it might be more compassionate, caring, even natural, to allow a natural dehydration to occur. Forcing tube feedings and IVs on dying patients can make the last days of their lives more uncomfortable.

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