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End of life care

Withdrawing treatment

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There are many different types of treatment that can be used to keep people with serious or terminal illnesses alive. These are called life-sustaining treatments. They include:

  • nutritional support through a feeding tube
  • dialysis – where a machine takes over the kidneys' functions
  • ventilators – where a machine takes over breathing

Eventually, with terminal illness, there may come a time when it's clear there's no prospect of recovery and that life-sustaining treatments are prolonging the dying process.

Your healthcare team will discuss this with you if you're able to understand and communicate.

If you're not able to understand and communicate, and you have made an advance decision outlining the care you would refuse in these circumstances, your healthcare team will follow this decision.

If you have not made an advance decision or it does not cover these particular circumstances, then a decision about continuing or stopping treatment will need to be made. This decision will be based on what your best interests are believed to be.

Your healthcare team will discuss this with your family members and your lasting power of attorney (if you have one), giving them time to consider all the implications.

If there's an agreement that continuing treatment is not in your best interests, treatment can be withdrawn, allowing you to die peacefully.

The palliative care team will make sure you're comfortable and do not feel pain or distress.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the case may need to be referred to the Court of Protection before any further action can be taken.

Find out more about managing pain and other symptoms, and physical changes in the last hours and days.

Page last reviewed: 18/10/2021
Next review due: 17/10/2024