Palliative sedation until death: an approach from Kant’s ethics of virtue

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 29 (6):387-396 (2008)
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Abstract

This paper is concerned with the moral justification for palliative sedation until death. Palliative sedation involves the intentional lowering of consciousness for the relief of untreatable symptoms. The paper focuses on the moral problems surrounding the intentional lowering of consciousness until death itself, rather than possible adjacent life-shortening effects. Starting from a Kantian perspective on virtue, it is shown that continuous deep sedation until death (CDS) does not conflict with the perfect duty of moral self-preservation because CDS does not destroy capacities for agency. In addition, it is argued that CDS can frustrate the imperfect duty of self-cultivation by reducing consciousness permanently. Nevertheless, there are cases where CDS is morally acceptable, namely, cases where the agent has already permanently lost the possibility for free action in advance of sedation—for example, due to excruciating and ongoing pain. Because the latter can be difficult to diagnose properly, safeguards may be needed in order to prevent the application of CDS for the wrong reasons.

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