The artificial provision of nutrition and hydration to those with end-stage malignant disease is addressed. The physiology of cancer is investigated and is found to render such treatment futile in many instances. An analysis of the sociology of food, and the role of gender in its provision is discussed, and placed in the social milieu of the acute hospital, where there is to be found a cultural replication of the family. It is hypothesized that it is the synthesis of the powerful symbols of food and family that is at the root of behaviour in this area. Implications for patients and caregivers are explored.