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Concept: Terminal sedation


The presence of acute or chronic respiratory failure is often seen as a terminal phase of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A great variability in end-of-life practice is observed in these patients mainly because physicians are not always able to correctly predict survival. There is a need for a clear discussion about decision making earlier than when acute respiratory failure ensues. Indeed, a perceived poor quality of life does not necessarily correlate with a clear willingness to refuse invasive or noninvasive mechanical ventilation. It has been suggested to start palliative care earlier, together with curative and restorative care, when there is an increased intensity of symptoms. The patients eligible for palliative care are those complaining of breathlessness, pain, fatigue and depression, which in some studies accounted for a prevalence much higher than 50%. Among comfort measures for palliation, oxygen is frequently prescribed even when the criteria for long-term home oxygen therapy are not met; however, when compared with air, no benefits on dyspnoea have been found. The only drug with a proven effect on dyspnoea is morphine, but not when it is delivered with a nebuliser. Finally, noninvasive ventilation may be used only as a comfort measure for palliation to maximise comfort by minimising adverse effects.

Concepts: Pulmonology, Pneumonia, Mechanical ventilation, Palliative care, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Palliative medicine, End-of-life care, Terminal sedation


The moral importance of the ‘intention-foresight’ distinction has long been a matter of philosophical controversy, particularly in the context of end-of-life care. Previous empirical research in Australia has suggested that general physicians and surgeons may use analgesic or sedative infusions with ambiguous intentions, their actions sometimes approximating ‘slow euthanasia’. In this paper, we report findings from a qualitative study of 18 Australian palliative care medical specialists, using in-depth interviews to address the use of sedation at the end of life. The majority of subjects were agnostic or atheistic. In contrast to their colleagues in acute medical practice, these Australian palliative care specialists were almost unanimously committed to distinguishing their actions from euthanasia. This commitment appeared to arise principally from the need to maintain a clear professional role, and not obviously from an ideological opposition to euthanasia. While some respondents acknowledged that there are difficult cases that require considered reflection upon one’s intention, and where there may be some ‘mental gymnastics,’ the nearly unanimous view was that it is important, even in these difficult cases, to cultivate an intention that focuses exclusively on the relief of symptoms. We present four narratives of ‘terminal’ sedation - cases where sedation was administered in significant doses just before death, and may well have hastened death. Considerable ambiguities of intention were evident in some instances, but the discussion around these clearly exceptional cases illustrates the importance of intention to palliative care specialists in maintaining their professional roles.

Concepts: Medicine, Death, Palliative care, Palliative medicine, Hospice, End-of-life care, Terminal sedation, Euthanasia


CONTEXT: The terms “palliative sedation” and “terminal sedation” have been used to refer to both proportionate palliative sedation, in which unconsciousness is a foreseen but an unintended side effect, and palliative sedation to unconsciousness, in which physicians aim to make their patients unconscious until death. It has not been clear to what extent palliative sedation to unconsciousness is accepted and practiced by U.S. physicians. OBJECTIVES: To investigate U.S. physician acceptance and practice of palliative sedation to unconsciousness and to identify predictors of that practice. METHODS: In 2010, a survey was mailed to 2016 practicing U.S. physicians. Criterion measures included self-reported practice of palliative sedation to unconsciousness until death and physician endorsement of such sedation for a hypothetical patient with existential suffering at the end of life. RESULTS: Of the 1880 eligible physicians, 1156 responded to the survey (62%). One in ten (141/1156) physicians had sedated a patient in the previous 12 months with the specific intention of making the patient unconscious until death, and two of three physicians opposed sedation to unconsciousness for existential suffering, both in principle (68%, n = 773) and in the case of a hypothetical dying patient (72%, n = 831). Eighty-five percent (n = 973) of physicians agreed that unconsciousness is an acceptable side effect of palliative sedation but should not be directly intended. CONCLUSION: Although there is a widespread support among U.S. physicians for proportionate palliative sedation, intentionally sedating dying patients to unconsciousness until death is neither the norm in clinical practice nor broadly supported for the treatment of primarily existential suffering.

Concepts: Patient, Life, Hospital, Palliative care, Physician, Doctor-patient relationship, Terminal sedation, Euthanasia


The natural history of heart failure (HF) is characterized by a progressive decline in functional capacity, punctuated by acute heart destabilization episodes which contribute to a spiraling worsening course. Advanced HF affects one in four patients who are referred to the hospital for the syndrome and has an estimated yearly incidence of 12 000 new cases in Italy. Life expectancy is very limited, and in general less than 50% of advanced HF patients are alive at 1-2 years. Advanced HF patients show a high, not modifiable mortality, severe symptoms and impaired quality of life. Treatment goals should focus on the improvement of symptoms and quality of life, the aims of palliative care. Palliative consultations during hospital admissions reduce the number of interventions and procedures in the last stages of life, the length of stay in the intensive care unit and general ward. HF patients who receive home palliative care are more likely to die at home, in accordance with their expressed will. The research project RF-MAR-2007-67955 aims to analyze, through a prospective observational registry, the palliative care needs of HF patients in Italy, to answer the gaps in knowledge on symptom changes during the terminal stages of the disease, on the quality of communication between healthcare professionals, patients and their families and caregivers' needs.

Concepts: Health care, Health care provider, Disease, Patient, Life expectancy, Symptomatic treatment, Hospice, Terminal sedation


The goal of palliative care (PC) is to improve the quality of life of terminal stage patients and their families. The subject frequently appears in the mass-media and this helps create a socially accepted identity. The aim of this study is to describe and analyse PC related news items appeared in the Spanish written media.

Concepts: Sociology, Palliative care, Palliative medicine, Hospice, Publishing, Terminal sedation, Mass media, News media


Complex need for patients with a terminal illness distinguishes those who would benefit from specialist palliative care from those who could be cared for by non-specialists. However, the nature of this complexity is not well defined or understood. This study describes how health professionals, from three distinct settings in the United Kingdom, understand complex need in palliative care.

Concepts: Health care, Medical terms, Palliative care, Illness, United Kingdom, Palliative medicine, Hospice, Terminal sedation


When entering the dying phase, the nature of physical, psychosocial and spiritual care needs of people with dementia and their families may change. Our objective was to understand what needs to be in place to develop optimal palliative care services for the terminal phase in the face of a small evidence base.

Concepts: Psychology, Palliative care, Palliative medicine, Hospice, Terminal sedation


Despite the benefits to early palliative care in the treatment of terminal illness, barriers to timely hospice referrals exist. Physicians who are more comfortable having end-of-life (EOL) conversations are more likely to refer to hospice. However, very little is known about what factors influence comfort with EOL care.

Concepts: Medicine, Death, Palliative care, Palliative medicine, Hospice, End-of-life care, Cicely Saunders, Terminal sedation


In our aging society, palliative care should be a standard component of health care. However, currently it is only provided to a small proportion of patients, mostly to those with cancer, and restricted to the terminal phase. Many general practitioners (GPs) say that one of their most significant challenges is to assess the right moment to start anticipatory palliative care. The “Surprise Question” (SQ1: “Would I be surprised if this patient were to die in the next 12 months”?), if answered with “no”, is an easy tool to apply in identifying patients in need of palliative care. However, this tool has a low specificity. Therefore, the aim of our pilot study was to determine if adding a second, more specific “Surprise Question” (SQ2: “Would I be surprised if this patient is still alive after 12 months”?) in case SQ1 is answered in the negative, prompts GPs to plan for anticipatory palliative care.

Concepts: Health care, Health care provider, Cancer, Palliative care, Physician, Illness, Curative care, Terminal sedation


Palliative care was initially developed for patients with advanced cancer. Over the past years, however, palliative care has broadened its focus from terminal cancer patients to patients with other serious, life-limiting illnesses. Nevertheless, the identification of palliative care needs (PCNs) among hospital patients remains an insufficiently investigated topic of research. The aim of our study was to describe the characteristics of hospital patients with palliative care needs and to develop a score for their identification.

Concepts: Cancer, Oncology, Medical terms, Patient, Chemotherapy, Palliative care, Hospice, Terminal sedation