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February 8, 1993

Dehydrating to Terminate Is Different From Dehydrating the Terminal

Author Affiliations

Amarillo, Tex

Arch Intern Med. 1993;153(3):399. doi:10.1001/archinte.1993.00410030099015

The title of the article by Printz, published in the April 1992 issue of the Archives,1 indicates to the reader that the subject is terminating life by withholding fluids and food in nondying patients (NDPs). Instead, the author describes three cases, all people near death. The confusion is dangerous.

The confusion comes from using euphemisms of "terminal" for dying, and "terminating" for causing death. Dehydrating terminal patients at their request is not the same as terminating NDPs by withholding fluids and food. To restate in clearer terms, dehydrating patients (at their request) who will die shortly anyway is not the same as causing death by dehydration and starvation in patients who would otherwise live for years.

Withholding fluids and food from dying patients, if requested by the patient, is legal and is generally considered medically and ethically correct. (State statutes that restrict the withholding of food and fluids from