Palliative sedation at end of life is appropriate in cases of extreme suffering, review article says

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Palliative sedation at the end of life is ethically sound and has “an important place on the continuum of appropriate palliative care,” according to a new review article.

It is the intent and outcome that distinguishes the practice of palliative sedation from euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, according to a team of physician reviewers writing in the October issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The intent of palliative sedation is to relieve “unremitting and intractable suffering,” while the intent of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is to end the patient's life. Similarly, the desired outcome of palliative sedation is relief from pain, compared with a desired outcome of patient death.

"Many physicians are uncomfortable removing life-sustaining therapy or providing comfort-directed medication because of confusion about the ethical soundness of such treatments,” lead author Paul Mueller, M.D., wrote. “In contrast to physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, withdrawal of or withholding life-sustaining treatment and administering palliative sedation are ethically sound options."

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