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Review of European Guidelines on Palliative Sedation: A Foundation for the Updating of the European Association for Palliative Care Framework

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  • Séverine M. Surges
  • Eduardo Garralda
  • Birgit Jaspers
  • Holger Brunsch
  • Maaike Rijpstra
  • Jeroen Hasselaar
  • Michaël Van der Elst
  • Johan Menten
  • Ágnes Csikós
  • Sebastiano Mercadante
  • Daniela Mosoiu
  • Sheila Payne
  • Carlos Centeno
  • Lukas Radbruch
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>27/10/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Palliative Medicine
Issue number11
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)1721-1731
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date12/07/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In 2009, the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) developed a framework on palliative sedation, acknowledging this practice as an important and ethically acceptable intervention of last resort for terminally ill patients experiencing refractory symptoms. Before and after that, other guidelines on palliative sedation have been developed in Europe with variations in terminology and concepts. As part of the Palliative Sedation project (Horizon 2020 Funding No. 825700), a revision of the EAPC framework is planned. The aim of this article is to analyze the most frequently used palliative sedation guidelines as reported by experts from eight European countries to inform the discussion of the new framework. The three most reported documents per country were identified through an online survey among 124 clinical experts in December 2019. Those meeting guideline criteria were selected. Their content was assessed against the EAPC framework on palliative sedation. The quality of their methodology was evaluated with the Appraisal Guideline Research and Evaluation (AGREE) II instrument. Nine guidelines were included. All recognize palliative sedation as a last-resort treatment for refractory symptoms, but the criterion of refractoriness remains a matter of debate. Most guidelines recognize psychological or existential distress as (part of) an indication and some make specific recommendations for such cases. All agree that the assessment should be multiprofessional, but they diverge on the expertise required by the attending physician/team. Regarding decisions on hydration and nutrition, it is proposed that these should be independent of those for palliative sedation, but there is no clear consensus on the decision-making process. Several weaknesses were highlighted, particularly in areas of rigor of development and applicability. The identified points of debate and methodological weaknesses should be considered in any update or revision of the guidelines analyzed to improve the quality of their content and the applicability of their recommendations.