Biblical vision

Biblical aspects

When looking at the phenomenon of terminal dehydration from an historical perspective, in other words with the knowledge and experience from the time of creation to the first half century after the birth of Christ, terms such as drip feeding and infusion were obviously unknown. Eating and drinking, but also the lack of or self-denial of food and drink, can only be considered within the 'natural' context.

The term thirst has a prominent place in the Bible, which is not surprising for a people who were initially nomads in desert-like regions. So the bitter consequences of persistent thirst was always lurking. No wonder water was (and still is) valued for so long for its life-saving properties. 'Thirst' can also be used as a general term for the desire to live. Jesus does this when He calls out: ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.’ (John 7:37).

So thirst is on the interface between the threat of death on the one hand and life that is longed for on the other. Thus the living God often compares Himself with a Fountain of water (e.g. Jer. 2:13) and a River of living water (John 7:38).

In the light of this, terminal dehydration is poignant. The patient is facing death, but that is not a neutral or very positive process. In the Bible, death is and remains ‘the last enemy’ (1 Cor. 15:26). At the same time, we also notice that in the Bible death is also at it were the conclusion of a completed life – but note, when God sees that life as being complete. A touching example of this is the death of Jacob (Gen. 48-49), who, after a long and eventful life, took leave of his children and committed himself into God's hands.

Terminal dehydration cannot be compared with the voluntary denial of food and drink, i.e. fasting, as found in the Bible. Fasting reminds people of their dependence on God, it is a sign of humility that is accompanied by prayer. Refusing intravenous therapy is not fasting, neither does the reverse apply.


It demands Christian wisdom to on the one hand continue caring properly for the patient by preventing dehydration and on the other hand taking a step back when the body is ‘exhausted’ and the patient may die. A Christian will act with restraint respecting active forms of terminal dehydration.