When a person choses to hasten death by VSED, the cause of death is dehydration, not starvation. If that person is also suffering from a terminal illness, the “usual” length of the fast is one to two weeks. Absent an underlying terminal illness, the length of time before death may be longer, perhaps three weeks. What is critical to achieve death within that time span is the ability and determination to forgo all fluids. This requires great personal resolve in addition to comprehensive and accurate information about the process, good symptom management, and caregiving and psycho-social support.
VSED is generally not a painful process; hunger pangs tend to disappear after several days but feelings of a dry mouth or thirst can be more challenging to remedy. Providing excellent oral care usually relieves most of those symptoms when accompanied by small doses of oral pain medication and anti-anxiety medications. Good oral care includes the following: frequent opportunities to rinse and spit cool water can relieve dry mucus membranes, plus fine mist sprayed a back of throat, cold/frozen washcloth to suck, use of mouth wash & brushing teeth, artificial saliva — all help relieve distress. – Judy
For more information, check out our Medium article series, End of Life Options — Conversations with Judy.