End-of-Life Choices

End of Life Washington supports your choice.

People considering the option of Death with Dignity (DWD) should be aware of all of their end-of-life options.

Forego Treatment
Hospice and Palliative Care
VSED: Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking
Death with Dignity (DWD): Medical Aid in Dying
Palliative Sedation

There are many dignified ways to die.

If you are considering Death with Dignity and/or do not qualify for Death with Dignity, there are additional end-of-life options.

Option: Forego Treatment

Not Starting Treatment or stopping Treatment

For some terminally ill people, aggressive treatment may not be helpful and may prolong the dying process. Under some circumstances, aggressive treatment may increase suffering, impair a person’s remaining quality of life, or even shorten life.

Many people are unaware that stopping treatment can result in a peaceful death. For example, people on dialysis for kidney failure may be able to die peacefully by stopping dialysis. However, stopping medical treatments may increase discomfort or suffering. Consulting with your physician and arranging for palliative (comfort) care are essential before stopping treatment.

Under some circumstances stopping treatment can be combined with hospice and palliative care and/or voluntary stopping eating and drinking (see below) to shorten the dying process and reduce suffering.

Option: Hospice and Palliative

Hospice and Palliative (Comfort) Care

Palliative care and hospice care are often confused, yet they are very similar when it comes to the most important issue for dying people: care.

Palliative care is treatment of the discomfort, symptoms, and stress of serious illness, with comfort and quality of life as primary goals. It provides relief from distressing symptoms including pain, shortness of breath, nausea, problems with sleep, anxiety, and side effects of medications. It is important to note that palliative care is for anyone with a serious illness. It is available for any age and any stage of an illness, and may include curative treatment. People usually receive palliative care at clinics or hospitals, but home visits are becoming more common.

Hospice is a form of palliative care that seeks to optimize the quality of life at the end of life, while neither hindering nor hastening the dying process. It is an important Medicare benefit for terminally ill patients who may only have months to live. People who receive hospice care no longer receive curative treatment for their underlying disease. Hospice is not a place, but rather a form of medical care that enables the probability of a peaceful death for most people. It is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, HMOs (such as Kaiser Permanente), the Veterans Administration, and most private health insurers.

To qualify for hospice, a person usually has six months or less to live and will be required to decline further curative treatments. A referral from a doctor, who usually remains your primary care physician during hospice care, is required. Hospice caregivers control pain and other symptoms and provide counseling, family support, and many other services. Additionally, hospice helps people remain in control and die at home, where most people prefer to die. For those who cannot remain at home, inpatient hospice facilities may be available. Hospice can also be provided in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.

While hospice has no legal role in the Death with Dignity (DWD) process, some hospices – particularly those affiliated with religious organizations – are less supportive of DWD than others. If having hospice support for the decision to pursue the option of DWD is important, be sure to question potential hospice providers about their policies. Most hospices will not deny care to a patient pursing the option of DWD, although they may choose to opt out of supporting a patient on the day of ingesting medications.

End of Life Washington believes that hospice is an essential component of end-of-life care and encourages all individuals who have received a terminal diagnosis to enroll in hospice. Hospice is essential for terminally ill people who choose to stop treatment and/or voluntarily stop eating and drinking, especially if they wish to remain in their homes.

For more information, request or see our handout:

The Importance of Hospice

or go to the Washington State Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s website, www.wshpco.org.

Option: VSED

Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking (VSED)

For some terminally ill people, aggressive treatment may not be helpful and may prolong the dying process. Under some circumstances, aggressive treatment may increase suffering, impair a person’s remaining quality of life, or even shorten life.

Many people are unaware that stopping treatment can result in a peaceful death. For example, people on dialysis for kidney failure may be able to die peacefully by stopping dialysis. However, stopping medical treatments may increase discomfort or suffering. Consulting with your physician and arranging for palliative (comfort) care are essential before stopping treatment.

Under some circumstances stopping treatment can be combined with hospice and palliative care and/or voluntary stopping eating and drinking (see below) to shorten the dying process and reduce suffering.

Learn more here.

Option: Palliative Sedation

Also Referred to as Terminal Sedation

Unlike adequate pain and symptom management, however, palliative sedation is not necessarily a “right.” While it can be requested, it is up to the medical provider to determine if it is appropriate.

Palliative sedation, also referred to as terminal sedation, is the practice of relieving difficult-to-manage distress for a terminally ill person in the last days and hours of life, usually by means of a sedative drug which renders the patient unconscious. Palliative sedation is usually provided in a hospital or a skilled nursing or inpatient hospice facility. All nutrition and hydration is stopped, and the patient usually dies within a few days.

If having the option of palliative sedation is important, discuss it with hospice or other medical providers well before it becomes necessary.

End-of-Life Options in Addition to the Washington Death With Dignity Act

There are many dignified ways to die. People considering the option of Death with Dignity (DWD) should
also be aware of other end-of-life options.

Updated 1-10-2020

Download the PDF

Practical Guide to VSED

Download our Practical Guide to VSED - includes additional information and FAQs, Caregiver Advice and Managing Symptoms Suggestions, Sample Letter to Physician, statement, My Decision to Voluntarily Stop Eating and Drinking Statement

Download Practical Guide to VSED (pdf)

The Importance of Hospice

End of Life Washington believes that hospice is an essential component of end-of-life care and encourages all individuals who have received a terminal diagnosis to enroll when they become eligible. Hospice can help people remain in control and die at home. The goal of hospice is to improve quality of life in the patient’s last months, focusing on comfort care, control of pain, and symptom management, as opposed to continuing curative treatments.

Updated 1-10-2020

Download pdf

We Support The Human Right To A Death With Dignity

We hold that mentally competent adults who suffer from a terminal illness, intractable physical pain, chronic or progressive physical disabilities, or who face loss of autonomy and selfhood through dementia, have a basic human right to choose to end their lives when they judge their quality of life to be unacceptable. LEARN MORE about what they do.

 End of Life Washington provides advice and support to people considering all end-of-life decisions, including Death with Dignity. For more information about any of these end-of-life options and to request our free client support services, contact End of Life Washington.