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What influences attitudes towards clinically assisted hydration in the care of dying patients? A review of the literature
  1. Miriam J Gent,
  2. Sarah Fradsham,
  3. Graham M Whyte and
  4. Catriona R Mayland
  1. Aintree Specialist Palliative Care Service, Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Catriona Mayland, Aintree Specialist Palliative Care Service, Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Wards 53/54, Longmoor Lane, Liverpool L9 7AL, UK; catriona.mayland{at}aintree.nhs.uk

Abstract

Background An equivocal evidence base on the use of Clinically Assisted Hydration (CAH) in the last days of life presents a challenge for clinicians. In an attempt to provide clarity, the General Medical Council (GMC) has produced reasoned guidelines which identify that clinical vigilance is paramount, but that healthcare professionals should consider patient and family beliefs, values and wishes when making a decision to commence, withhold or withdraw CAH.

Aims To describe the attitudes and knowledge of patients, families, healthcare professionals and the general public regarding CAH in the care of dying patients.

Methods Four electronic databases were searched for empirical studies relating to attitudes and knowledge regarding CAH in the care of dying patients or end-of-life care (1985 and 2010). Selected studies were independently reviewed and data collaboratively synthesised into core themes.

Results From 202 identified articles, 18 papers met inclusion criteria. Three core themes emerged: (1) the symbolic value of hydration; (2) beliefs and misconceptions and (3) cultural, ethical and legal ideas about hydration.

Conclusions Developing international evidence suggests that cultural norms and ethical principles of a family, population or healthcare environment influence attitudes towards CAH, particularly where CAH has symbolic meaning; representing care, hope and trust. However, there is surprisingly little robust evidence regarding dying patients, or the wider general public's views, on the perceived value of CAH in the last days and hours of life. Accordingly, a need for greater understanding of the perceptions regarding CAH, and their effects, is required.

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  • Received 8 August 2013.
  • Revision received 31 December 2013.
  • Accepted 19 January 2014.
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