Ethical and Legal Issues in Feeding and Hydration

Volume 113, Issue 6, pages 828-833 (June 2013)


It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that individuals have the right to request or refuse nutrition and hydration as medical treatment. Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) should work collaboratively as part of the interprofessional team to make recommendations on providing, withdrawing, or withholding nutrition and hydration in individual cases and serve as active members of institutional ethics committees. RDNs have an active role in determining the nutrition and hydration requirements for individuals throughout the life span. When individuals choose to forgo any type of nutrition and hydration (natural or artificial), or when individuals lack decision-making capacity and others must decide whether or not to provide artificial nutrition and hydration, RDNs have a professional role in the ethical deliberation around those decisions. Across the life span, there are multiple instances when nutrition and hydration issues create ethical dilemmas. There is strong clinical, ethical, and legal support both for and against the administration of food and water when issues arise regarding what is or is not wanted by the individual and what is or is not warranted by empirical clinical evidence. When a conflict arises, the decision requires ethical deliberation. RDNs' understanding of nutrition and hydration within the context of nutritional requirements and cultural, social, psychological, and spiritual needs provide an essential basis for ethical deliberation. RDNs, as health care team members, have the responsibility to promote use of advanced directives. RDNs promote the rights of the individual and help the health care team implement appropriate therapy.


Alice Fornari, EdD, RD, Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, Hempstead, NY

The name of Alice Fornari’s, EdD, RD place of employment is spelled incorrectly in the acknowledgement section of the paper. Alice served as a reviewer for the paper.

Figure 1 on page 829 mistakenly claims that Cruzan v. Harmon took place in the Maryland Supreme Court. The case took place in the Missouri Supreme Court. An erratum will be published in the May 2017 Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. We regret this error.