Considering VSED: voluntarily stopping eating & drinking
Updated: Mar 24
Voluntary Stopping of Eating and Drinking: VSED
For a number of years I have been collecting stories and witness accounts of people who have chosen to die by voluntarily stopping eating and drinking. I am curious about their decision process, the conversations they have with loved ones and doctors, and the support systems they put in place for this way of dying. In my process of learning how to reduce suffering at end of life, I come back to VSED again and again. It is a self directed, humane, and gentle alternative to (medical aid in dying) drug cocktails. In many ways it seems to me to be a path towards a truly non violent death. If you are choosing to step away from a fight with medicalized end-stage disease processes or have reached the last window of opportunity for informed decision making in the face of cognitive decline and wizening, VSED is worth the time to learn about and consider.
Here is a reflection from a friend:
"This was my mom's choice when she'd decided she'd had enough of living with ALS. It was hard for me at first because I associated not eating or drinking with hunger and thirst, but that wasn't what she told me. Her body was ready with her mind and she didn't get hungry or thirsty anymore. It was pretty gentle, certainly compared with aspiration pneumonia."
Below I've provided curated links to videos and other resources that tell the stories of individuals who have chosen VSED, as told by themselves and their care givers. Since posting this page, a number of people have sent links to other VSED resources (including legal information). I anticipate there will be regular updates here, so come back any time to see what may be new.
If you are thinking about VSED for yourself and would like to tell me your story, I am a good listener and would love to hear about your journey. If you are trying to find the way to tell your family that this is what you want, I would give you time to practice and role play. I can help you find resources and support. And if you have or have found a resource I have not listed please send me an email! Be in touch any time. firstname.lastname@example.org
FILM & VIDEO
Treat yourself to a visit with this most 'down to earth' elder from the heart of her VSED journey, the last chapter in her adventurer's life. She reports a very positive experience with VSED - "a pretty beautiful way of going. The only sad part is saying goodbye to all the people I have loved." Carry on and go well, she tells us.
Not Here By Choice
Phylis Shacter's story of her husband's VSED journey, presented to the Palliative Care Institute.
Rosemary Bowen's Fast
At age 94, Rosemary Bowen hastened her death by voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED) in 2018. For twenty years, Rosemary Bowen had told her family that she would hasten her death when she was no longer able to live independently. Several months after suffering a back injury, she decided that she was ready to die. Rosemary asked her daughter to make this video to show others that VSED could be a sensible end-of-life option.
It’s My Right: The Handmade Death of Herta Sturmann
My mother had congestive heart failure and decided not to submit herself to the indignities of medical intervention. My outspoken mother insisted I film our family as we navigated this fraught process together. My brother and I cared for her round the clock during the ten days it took her to die at home. Handmade is about the tactile and the intimate. It’s an expression of hands connected to heart, and getting back to essentials. This film is about resilient and independent families and individuals, who despite the norms, have the courage to rethink how we die, revolutionizing how best to continue living.
Tomorrow Never Knows
Facing the devastating prognosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease, Shar's decision, supported by his wife Cynthia, was to have a conscious death rather than live with the disease to its natural end.
Dying Wish ~ the documentary
The story of Dr Michael Miller, retired surgeon and hospice patient with end-stage cancer who chose to stop eating and drinking to hasten and ease his death. www.dyingwishmedia.com
FIRST PERSON WRITTEN ACCOUNTS:
Scott Nearing's dignified death, like his life, was a considered and simple choice.
"A month or two before he died he was sitting at table with us at a meal. Watching us eat he said, "I think I won’t eat anymore." By Helen Nearing
INFORMATION & RESOURCES
Hastening Death by Voluntarily Stopping Eating & Drinking
Why Do Some Consider This Option? Why Should They? What Should They Know Before Proceeding? By Judith Schwarz, PhD, RN
VSED Resources Northwest: A site developed by VSED advocates, Palliative Care professionals, and family members of those who have chosen VSED.
End of Life Choices NY: VSED information and resources:
Fasting for the Dead: Living to the end of your own choosing.
A site from Switzerland (Google will translate from German into English for you) offering extensive, publicly accessible documentation on the subject of fasting for death. From palliacura, a non-profit foundation based in Zurich.
A trove of scholarly VSED resources and materials, through the lens of Bioethics, Health Law, and Patient Rights, with some international perspective as well:
Patient's Rights Council: VSED FAQ PDF
This document is dated 2011. It does not paint the rosy picture a lot of these other materials do. And, a reasoned review considers opposing arguments. https://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/VSED_Questions.pdf
If you have or have found a resource I have not listed please send me an email!
Be in touch any time: email@example.com
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