Palliative Sedation: Question and Answer

Many patients facing serious illness suffer from extremely distressing symptoms. Sometimes the only way to provide relief is through sedation. Learn answers to some of the most basic and commonly asked questions.

Q: What is Palliative Sedation?

A: Palliative sedation is a way to minimize pain in seriously ill patients that cannot be relieved in any other way. An infusion of a sedating drug is provided to a point where the person appears to be comfortable and the distressing symptoms are relieved.

Q: Is palliative sedation common?

A: No. Palliative sedation is a treatment of last resort. It is used very rarely because the vast majority of patients can get acceptable relief without sedation.

Q: Does palliative sedation actually hasten death?

A: No. Studies clearly show that palliative sedation does not hasten death. It is the progression of the disease that causes the body to gradually shut down and eventually die. Research shows that patients at the very end of life who receive palliative sedation do not die more quickly than patients who are not sedated. This research has been published in such top tier peer reviewed professional journals as Annals of Oncology, Journal of Palliative Medicine, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Archives of Internal Medicine, and Palliative Medicine.

Q: Are there accepted guidelines for treating people in the last weeks of life?

A: Yes. Much has happened in the last six years. Protocols and guidelines for medical care during the last hours of life are on the websites of major health and palliative care organizations. Medical journals and textbooks have also published guidelines.