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Dutch physicians on the role of the family in continuous sedation
  1. Donald G van Tol1,
  2. Pauline Kouwenhoven2,
  3. Bea van der Vegt3,
  4. Heleen Weyers4
  1. 1Department of General Practice, University Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
  2. 2Julius Center, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  3. 3Department of Health Sciences, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
  4. 4Deparment of Legal Theory, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr D G van Tol, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Department of General Practice, PO Box196, 9700 AD Groningen, The Netherlands; d.g.van.tol{at}


In order to relieve intractable suffering of a terminal patient, doctors may decide to continuously sedate a patient until the end of life. Little research is done on the role the family plays during the process of continuous sedation. This study aims to get a view of doctors’ experiences with continuous sedation, and the role of the family throughout that process. We held in-depth interviews with 48 doctors (19 general practitioners, 16 nursing home doctors and 18 medical specialists). Participants were selected varying in experience and opinions concerning end-of-life decisions.

Dutch physicians experience the role of family in continuous sedation as important and potentially difficult. Difficulties may rise especially during the final stages when the patient is no longer conscious and family members are waiting for death to come. Disagreement may arise between physician and family, concerning the dignity of the dying process or the question whether the sedated patient is suffering or not. Some physicians report they hastened the dying process, in order to relieve the families’ suffering.

  • End-of-life
  • Family
  • Palliative Care
  • Decision-making

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