(Cross-posted from the Journal of Medical Ethics blog)
The Liverpool Care Pathway provides a rubric for managing the care terminally ill as they approach death. A helpful pamphlet explaining what it is and what it does is available here. Ideally, I’d quote the lot; but for the sake of efficiency, I’ll make do with an edited quotation:
What is the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP)?
The LCP is a pathway/ document that outlines this best care, irrespective of your relative/ friend’s diagnosis or whether they are dying at home, in hospital, in a hospice or a care home.
Medication will be reviewed and any medication that is not helpful at this time may be stopped and new medication may be prescribed so that if a symptom should occur there would be no delay in responding.
It may not be possible to give medication by mouth at this time, so medication may be given by injection or sometimes if needed, by a continuous infusion by a small pump called a Syringe Driver, which will be tailored to individual needs.
It may not be appropriate to continue some tests at this time; these may include blood tests or blood pressure and temperature monitoring.
The staff should talk to you about maintaining your relative’s/ friend’s comfort; this should include discussion regarding position in bed, use of a special mattress and regular mouth care. You may want to be involved in elements of care at this time.
Diminished need for food and drink
Initially, as weakness develops, the effort of eating and drinking may simply have become too much and at this time help with feeding might be appreciated.
Your relative/friend will be supported to take food and fluids by mouth for as long as possible.
When someone stops eating and drinking it can be hard to accept, even when we know they are dying. It may be a physical sign that they are not going to get better. Your relative/friend may neither want or need food and/or drink and decisions about the use of artificial fluids (a drip) will be made in the best interests of your relative/friends for this moment in time. This decision will be explained to you and reviewed regularly.
This can be paraphrased further: medically futile treatment may be withdrawn; the main criterion for administering drugs will be symptom alleviation rather than life extension; some testing may be discontinued; it’s possible that there’ll come a point when artificial nutrition and hydration are no longer in the patient’s best interest, and they might be withdrawn if and when that point is reached.
None of this is particularly cheery; but death rarely is. Continue reading