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Neuromuscular blockers—a means of palliation?
  1. L Hawryluck
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr L Hawryluck, Ian Anderson Continuing Education Program in End of Life Care, University Health Network, University of Toronto, Canada;


As we die, our respiratory pattern is altered and we seem to gasp and struggle for each breath. Such gasping is commonly seen as a clear sign of dyspnoea and suffering by families and loved ones, however, it is unclear whether it is perceived at all by the dying person. Narcotics and sedatives do not seem to affect these gasping respirations. In this issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, we are asked to consider whether the last gasp of a dying patient could be or, perhaps, even should be avoided by administering neuromuscular blockers to palliate dying patients. For many reasons, such as our current failure to alleviate pain and distress, stories of inadequate analgesia and sedation in critically ill paralysed patients and the inability to know the intent—whether to palliate or to euthanise—it would seem that administering neuromuscular blockers should not be ethically permissible.

  • Palliative care
  • end-of-life care
  • double effect
  • terminal sedation

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