Labelling of end-of-life decisions by physicians

Journal of Medical Ethics 40 (7):505-507 (2014)
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Objectives Potentially life-shortening medical end-of-life practices ) remain subject to conceptual vagueness. This study evaluates how physicians label these practices by examining which of their own practices they label as euthanasia or sedation.Methods We conducted a large stratified random sample of death certificates from 2007 . The physicians named on the death certificate were approached by means of a postal questionnaire asking about ELDs made in each case and asked to choose the most appropriate label to describe the ELD. Response rate was 58.4%.Results In the vast majority of practices labelled as euthanasia, the self-reported actions of the physicians corresponded with the definition in the Belgian euthanasia legislation; practices labelled as palliative or terminal sedation lack clear correspondence with definitions of sedation as presented in existing guidelines. In these cases, an explicit life-shortening intention by means of drug administration was present in 21.6%, life shortening was estimated at more than 24 h in 51% and an explicit patient request was absent in 79.7%.Discussion Our results suggest that, unlike euthanasia, the concept of palliative or terminal sedation covers a broad range of practices in the minds of physicians. This ambiguity can be a barrier to appropriate sedation practice and indicates a need for better knowledge of the practice of palliative sedation by physicians



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