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Two studies reported in the Journal of Medical Ethics add to the growing body of qualitative evidence relating to the use of sedatives at the end of life.1 ,2 Respondents in the two studies affirm a number of important concerns, most of which have been elaborated in the philosophy and palliative care literature, relating to the use of sedation. There seems little doubt that the common moral thread to most of these concerns is the possibility that end-of-life sedation can resemble assisted death.
Most of the Dutch respondents in the paper by Reitjens et al1 were reported to believe that sedation does not hasten death. That is an oversimplification. Were it not for the potential to hasten death, I doubt we would be discussing the use of sedatives so frequently in ethics journals. It is true that there is little evidence that sedation significantly hastens death when doses are carefully titrated against symptoms—giving only that amount of a drug necessary to make the patient feel less distressed, and preserving consciousness as far as possible.3 Probably most sedative …
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.