Adults with terminal illness: a literature review of their needs and wishes for food
Food refusal can be a source of conflict between dying people and their caregivers. This review examines: the nature and purpose of food; some reasons for and implications of anorexia in terminal illness; ethical principles underpinning responses to declining appetite and food refusal; social transactions between dying people and their caregivers in relation to needs and wishes for food; and the need for further empirical research. The nature and purpose of food in human societies has been studied extensively by anthropologists but the knowledge gained is not often imported into health care practice, where eating is seen from a medical rather than an anthropological perspective. Food refusal may be a consequence of anorexia which is the result of physiological or psychological changes or it may be a deliberate choice in acceptance of impending death. Ethical principles underpinning responses to declining appetite and food refusal have been studied extensively and clear guidance obtained about what would be appropriate behaviour in given circumstances. There is little published empirical work on social transactions between dying people and their caregivers in relation to needs and wishes for food. As the contribution made to effective care-giving by high-quality interpersonal relationships is widely recognized, further knowledge about how best to sustain such relationships in these important circumstances would be useful. Moreover, as such interpersonal relationships often occur in an institutional context, it may be that more can be learnt from close examination of social transactions about how best to structure organizational processes to maximize autonomy and comfort for patients at the end of life. Further research is indicated.