Palliative sedation at the end of life has become an important last-resort treatment strategy for managing refractory symptoms as well as a topic of controversy within palliative care. Furthermore, palliative sedation is prominent in the public debate about the possible legalisation of voluntary assisted dying (physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia). This article attempts to demonstrate that palliative sedation is fundamentally different from euthanasia when it comes to intention, procedure, outcome and the status of the person. Nonetheless, palliative sedation in its most radical form of terminal deep sedation parallels euthanasia in one respect: both end the experience of suffering. However, only the latter intentionally ends life and also has this as its goal. There is the danger that deep sedation could bring death forward in time due to particular side effects of the treatment. Still that would, if it happens, not be intended, and accordingly is defensible in view of the doctrine of double effect.
- Received 8 April 2011.
- Accepted 13 December 2011.
- Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to http://group.bmj.com/group/rights-licensing/permissions
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Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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