Sedation accompanying treatment refusals, or refusals of eating and drinking, with a wish to die: an ethical statement

Ethik in der Medizin 36 (1):31-53 (2024)
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Abstract

Background This paper addresses sedation at the end of life. The use of sedation is often seen as a last resort for patients whose death is imminent and whose symptoms cannot be treated in any other way. This paper asks how to assess constellations, where patients want to hasten their death by refusing (further) life-sustaining treatment, or by voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED), and wish this to be accompanied by sedation. Argument We argue that sedation is ethically and legally permissible not only as a last resort, but in principle. Furthermore, we see a clear obligation to sedate in cases of acute suffering of any kind, while in some other constellations individual physicians’ objections to supposedly premature or unnecessary sedation must be respected. Such possible reservations should, however, be reconsidered in light of the fundamental ethical and legal right to a self-determined death. Conclusion In general, sedation practices should be less restrictive, and existing guidelines should be revised accordingly.

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Dieter Birnbacher
Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

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