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BMC Palliative Care

, 2:2

First Online: 13 May 2003Received: 14 February 2003Accepted: 13 May 2003


BackgroundThe administration of sedatives in terminally ill patients becomes an increasingly feasible medical option in end-of-life care. However, sedation for intractable distress has raised considerable medical and ethical concerns. In our study we provide a critical analysis of seven years experience with the application of sedation in the final phase of life in our palliative care unit.

MethodsMedical records of 548 patients, who died in the Palliative Care Unit of GK Havelhoehe between 1995–2002, were retrospectively analysed with regard to sedation in the last 48 hrs of life. The parameters of investigation included indication, choice and kind of sedation, prevalence of intolerable symptoms, patients- requests for sedation, state of consciousness and communication abilities during sedation. Critical evaluation included a comparison of the period between 1995–1999 and 2000–2002.

Results14.6% n = 80 of the patients in palliative care had sedation given by the intravenous route in the last 48 hrs of their life according to internal guidelines. The annual frequency to apply sedation increased continuously from 7% in 1995 to 19% in 2002. Main indications shifted from refractory control of physical symptoms dyspnoea, gastrointestinal, pain, bleeding and agitated delirium to more psychological distress panic-stricken fear, severe depression, refractory insomnia and other forms of affective decompensation. Patients- and relatives- requests for sedation in the final phase were significantly more frequent during the period 2000–2002.

ConclusionSedation in the terminal or final phase of life plays an increasing role in the management of intractable physical and psychological distress. Ethical concerns are raised by patients- requests and needs on the one hand, and the physicians- self-understanding on the other hand. Hence, ethically acceptable criteria and guidelines for the decision making are needed with special regard to the nature of refractory and intolerable symptoms, patients- informed consent and personal needs, the goals and aims of medical sedation in end-of-life care.

Keywordsterminal sedation palliative care ethics symptom control attitudes advance directives Electronic supplementary materialThe online version of this article doi:10.1186-1472-684X-2-2 contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Autor: H Christof Muller-Busch - Inge Andres - Thomas Jehser


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