Is it necessary for someone to be hydrated during their final days?

Court asked...

Residents in my senior building have asked if it is necessary to have hydration during the final days. If comfort measures is all one wants with pain medications, isn't it better to have the fluids?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

How and whether a person chooses to direct comfort care and hydration as care at the end of life is very much a personal decision"”usually based on individual preferences and often on personal experiences, such as witnessing the death of a friend or family member.

The debate that seems to be going on in your building echoes the debate still raging throughout the country about terms such as "necessary," "hydration," "comfort" and "better" when it comes to directing end of life care.

Medical experts disagree on whether a patient who is comatose or close to death can feel pain"”so they also debate whether such patients benefit from pain control medications. There is also disagreement over whether administering drugs to make a person more comfortable or alleviate pain will also have the effect of prolonging the person's life.

To make matters even more complicated, controversies over artificially administered food and water still rage because medical experts disagree about whether its purpose is to is to sustain life or to cure an illness.

So unfortunately, no one can provide you with what you may seek: a simple "yes" or "no" answer.

What the controversy and confusion does underscore, however, is the importance of recording your personal preferences in an advance directive. If preferences remain unclear, make an appointment to talk with a trusted medical professional to discuss this very issue.