Palliative sedation: a normal medical procedure

Palliative sedation constitutes administering drugs to render the patient unconscious at the end of life. It is considered part of a normal medical procedure: it does not constitute termination of life because the drugs administered are not the cause of death. The aim is to alleviate suffering at the end of life, specifically unbearable pain, that can no longer be relieved in any other way.

Palliative sedation is permissible where a patient’s remaining life expectancy is no more than 2 weeks. Since it is regarded as a normal medical procedure, physicians do not need to notify such cases or to have them reviewed.

A request for palliative sedation can originate either with the patient or with immediate family members and/or professional carers. If the patient is no longer capable of making an informed decision, the doctor will discuss the matter with a representative of the patient. The Royal Dutch Medical Association (KPMG) guidelines provide a clear definition of the situations in which palliative sedation is regarded as good medical practice.