Context: Artificial hydration (AH) is used to palliate patients with reduced fluid intake at the end of life but is a controversial practice. Patients' involvement in decision making varies, and little is known about patients' understanding of the benefits and burdens of AH.
Objectives: To identify the factors that patients consider most important when making decisions regarding AH at the end of life.
Methods: Interview study using Q-sort methodology conducted with 20 patients with advanced diseases recruited from inpatient and outpatient palliative care services.
Results: Several domains appear to influence a decision about AH: the patient's understanding of AH, their philosophical position on end-of-life care, the process of discussion, and who makes the final decision. Patients generally based their decision on whether AH would improve quality of life, although prolonging life was important for some. Hydration was not considered a burden, and many would want a trial of AH in the event that they could no longer drink. Patients wanted to be guided by medical opinion, although some wanted to make the decision on their own. All patients welcomed the opportunity to discuss AH.
Conclusion: Patients view AH as an important issue and are keen to be involved in decision making. Health care professionals may withhold AH at the end of life because they perceive it as a burden on patients and on their interactions with family, although this view is not shared by patients. Some patients lack understanding regarding the likely benefits of AH. Research examining the impact of clinical information regarding AH on patients' decision making is now needed.
Copyright © 2011 U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.