Patients Who Seek to Hasten Death by Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking: A Qualitative Study

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PURPOSE Voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (VSED) is a controversial method to hasten death. Little is known about why and how people come to VSED. This study assessed patients’ motives, how patients decide on VSED, and the ways in which they prepare for VSED and involve others. METHODS We conducted a qualitative study in the Netherlands of 29 patients; 24 started VSED and 19 died. Thirteen patients were included before or during VSED and 16 after-ward. We interviewed 17 patients, 18 relatives, and 10 professional caregivers. Inductive ideal-type analysis was used to describe typologies. RESULTS Three patient groups emerged. The first group (12 patients) were older people who felt life was completed, for whom control was important. They prepared well for VSED, but could overlook the need for help and the emotional burden their decision could place on relatives. The second group (11 patients) were older care-dependent patients with a poor quality of life. They sometimes started VSED suddenly, and they relied heavily on (informal) caregivers to prepare and execute their plan. The third group (6 patients) were psychiatric patients with a long-standing but fluctuating death wish, most of whom were younger. They often prepared for VSED in secrecy or started VSED unprepared. CONCLUSIONS Patients embarking on a trajectory toward VSED are a very diverse group, with different care needs. Guidance for care during VSED needs to be applicable to all 3 groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-544
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


  • VSED
  • aged
  • aged, 80 and over
  • death
  • elderly
  • end of life
  • ethics
  • euthanasia
  • geriatrics
  • pain
  • palliative care
  • physician-assisted suicide
  • primary care
  • psychiatric illness
  • suffering
  • voluntarily stopping eating and drinking

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