Are terminal patients given IV hydration in hospice. or are...

A fellow caregiver asked...

Are terminal patients given IV hydration in hospice, or are they left to die with nothing but injections of morphine? I did not see any IV connection in his arm, and he died two days after admittance to Hospice. He had lung cancer.

Expert Answer

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

People may or may not get IV fluids during hospice care for cancer. Although it's important to keep a person reasonably hydrated during this last period of their lives, often terminally ill people find IV's uncomfortable and bothersome. For this reason, many hospice providers prefer to try to hydrate the person orally; even swabbing the mouth with a damp sponge can help keep a dying person comfortable.

Research studies on IV hydration at the end of life have shown mixed results. In some studies, no benefit was found. In others, IV hydration did help reduce delirium and other discomfort.

In the end, the best care plan recognizes that every decision has benefits and burdens. Hospice care plans should be individualized, based on the dying person's preferences and medical situation. Often a little trial and error is also needed, to figure out what keeps the person with cancer most comfortable.