The New York Times recently published an article by Paula Span called “The VSED Exit: A Way to Speed Up Dying, Without Asking Permission.” VSED stands for voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, an end-of-life option that is, on the surface, as simple as its name suggests. Span, who recently attended the first conference devoted to VSED, gives an overview of one mother’s choice to end her life using this method. She also does an excellent job enumerating the ethical, practical, and legal implications of choosing to stop eating and drinking.
Which types of patients is such a choice appropriate for? How much suffering does it involve? Are there legal pitfalls of involvement in the VSED process by nurses and physicians? We can expect that all of these questions and more will be receiving growing attention in the coming years.
Late in the article, Span quotes Judith Schwarz, PhD, RN, now clinical coordinator of End of Life Choices New York. In 2009, AJN published a CE article, “Stopping Eating and Drinking,” by Schwarz. This substantive article centers around a detailed case study. “Gertrude,” we learn, has lived a very full life. All the things that give her pleasure and a modicum of freedom are gradually being removed as her body’s functions decline. Here’s a brief excerpt from the article introduction:
Gertrude (not her real name; other identifying details have been changed) was 99 years old. Having survived the Holocaust and overcome many other challenges in her long life, she thought it ironic that she had to ask her children to help her die.
Schwarz uses this example from her own nursing experience to describe stopping eating and drinking, as well as other clinical practices associated with hastening dying; explores whether this practice can or should be distinguished from suicide; and discusses the ethical and legal implications for nurses. The article will be free for the next two weeks.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor
For more posts on this blog related to palliative care topics, click here. And the latest installment in AJN‘s ongoing palliative care series for nurses is here: “For Advanced Cancer, What Treatment Is Next?”