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Expanded terminal sedation: dangerous waters
  1. Thomas David Riisfeldt
  1. Department of Philosophy, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Thomas David Riisfeldt, Department of Philosophy, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia; ThomasDavid.Riisfeldt{at}

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Gilbertson et al should be commended for their insightful exploration of expanded terminal sedation (ETS)1; however, there are a number of concerns that I will address in this response. I will first better characterise the currently accepted and commonplace ‘standard’ TS (STS), and then argue that the advocated forms of ETS draw very close to—and at times clearly constitute a subtype of—euthanasia, as opposed to representing a similar but separate practice. I will then conclude with concerns regarding the inappropriate application of ETS, particularly in the non-voluntary context.

Gilbertson et al distinguish ‘gradual’ TS, which they state is the currently accepted form of TS, from ‘rapid’ TS, which is then argued to be a justifiable form of ETS. However, in my experience working in multiple large public teaching hospitals in New South Wales, Australia and consistent with local clinical practice guidelines,2 3 STS falls somewhere in the middle between ‘gradual’ and ‘rapid’ TS. STS explicitly aims to achieve permanent unconsciousness so as to eliminate the potential for (and therefore relieve) suffering; conversely, lighter or more intermittent forms of sedation, or administering sedatives with aims other than to achieve unconsciousness (eg, anxiolysis), do not constitute TS proper. STS uses doses proportionate to the extent of symptoms so as to avoid ‘overshooting’ and inadvertently administering excessive doses which actually hasten/cause death, in order to distinguish STS from euthanasia in this respect. This is achieved by gradually uptitrating doses when the patient appears distressed, and is therefore by definition …

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  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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