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Current debates on end-of-life sedation: an international expert elicitation study

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Article number5
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/08/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>Supportive Care in Cancer
Issue number8
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)2141-2149
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


End-of-life sedation, though increasingly prevalent and widespread internationally, remains one of the most highly debated medical practices in the context of palliative medicine. This qualitative study aims to elicit and record the perspectives of leading international palliative care experts on current debates.
Twenty-one professionals from diverse backgrounds, sharing field-specific knowledge/expertise defined by significant scholarly contribution on end-of-life sedation, were recruited. Open-ended, semi-structured interviews, following a topic-oriented structure reflecting on current debates, were conducted. Results were analysed using thematic content analysis.
Three main aspects of sedation were identified and discussed as potentially problematic: (a) continuous deep sedation as an extreme facet of end-of-life sedation, (b) psycho-existential suffering as an ambivalent indication for sedation and (c) withdrawal or withholding of artificial nutrition and hydration as potentially life-shortening. On these grounds, concerns were reported over end-of-life sedation being morally equivalent to euthanasia. Considerable emphasis was placed on intentions as the distinguishing factor between end-of-life acts, and protective safeguards were introduced to distance sedation from euthanasia.
This study shows that, despite the safeguards introduced, certain aspects of sedation, including the intentions associated with the practice, are still under question, parallels being drawn between end-of-life sedation and euthanasia. This reaffirms the existence of a grey area surrounding the two practices, already evidenced in countries where euthanasia is legalized. More clarity over the issues that generate this grey area, with their causes being uncovered and eliminated, is imperative to resolve current debates and effectively inform research, policy and practice of end-of-life sedation.