Title: Fast Fact and Concepts #106: Controlled Sedation for Refractory Suffering - Part I
Author(s): Mike Salacz; David E. Weissman
Controlled Sedation for Refractory Suffering (a.k.a. total, palliative, terminal) can be defined as: "sedation for intractable distress in the dying". The use of sedation has been reported to be anywhere from 2%-50% of hospice patients. Muller-Busch reported the indications for sedation included: anxiety/psychological distress (40%), dyspnea (35%) and delirium/agitation (14%).
While there exists objective criteria for quantifying and treating physical distress, evaluating psychological distress (a.k.a. existential suffering) is more difficult; there are no simple and clinically oriented tools to evaluate spiritual and psychosocial components of mental suffering. Many clinicians find the idea of sedation for existential suffering to be ethically more challenging than similar treatment for physical suffering. In either case, the decision to begin a trial of sedation is always difficult for clinicians, requiring thorough patient assessment and discussions with the patient, family and other team members.
In the United States, Supreme Court rulings (Vacco v Quill (1997), Washington v Glucksberg (1997)) supported the concept of sedation when used to relieve intractable suffering. However, controversy still surrounds the use of sedation due to confusion with euthanasia. From an ethical and legal standpoint, the key difference is intent. In euthanasia the intent is to produce a hastened death. In sedation, the intent is to relieve intractable suffering, not hasten death. Of note, recent studies have found no difference in survival between hospice patients who required sedation for intractable symptom control during their last days and those who did not.
What is a refractory/intractable symptom?
Cherney and Portenoy clarified the distinction between a difficult vs. a refractory symptom. A refractory symptom, that is, one in which total sedation may be appropriate, should have the following three attributes:
One additional consideration proposed by Rousseau and others is the concept of Respite Sedation -- a time limited trial (usually 24 - 48 hours) in an attempt to break a cycle of psychological suffering. Fast Fact #107: Controlled sedation for refractory symptoms: Part II will review the techniques of sedation.
Fast Fact #107: Controlled sedation for refractory symptoms: Part II
ReferencesCherny NI. The use of sedation in the management of refractory pain. Principles and practice of supportive oncology Updates. 2000 3:1-11
Copyright/Referencing Information: Users are free to download and distribute Fast Facts for educational purposes only. Citation for referencing: Fast Facts and Concepts #104. Salacz M and Weissman DE. CONTROLLED SEDATION FOR REFRACTORY SUFFERING: PART I February 2004. End-of-Life Physician Education Resource Center www.eperc.mcw.edu.
Disclaimer: Fast Facts provide educational information, this information is not medical advice. Health care providers should exercise their own independent clinical judgment. Some Fast Fact information cites the use of a product in dosage, for an indication, or in a manner other than that recommended in the product labeling. Accordingly, the official prescribing information should be consulted before any such product is use.
Creation Date: 2/2004
Purpose: Self-Study Guide
|Training: Fellows, 1st/2nd Year Medical Students, 3rd/4th Year Medical Students, PGY1 (Interns), PGY2-6, Physicians in Practice|
|Specialty: Anesthesiology, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, General Internal Medicine, Geriatrics, Hematology/Oncology, Neurology, OB/GYN, Ophthalmology, Pulmonary/Critical Care, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Surgery|
|Non-Physician: Clergy/Chaplains, General Public, Graduate Students, Lawyers, Patients/Families, Nurses, Social Workers|
ACGME Competencies: Interpersonal and Communication Skills, Medical Knowledge, Patient Care
Keyword(s): Assisted suicide/euthanasia, Care for children of dying adults, Negotiating treatment goals, Treatment withdrawal, Treatment withholding
The Fast Facts series is distributed for educational use only and does not constitute medical advice. For the most current version of Fast Facts visit the EPERC web site at www.eperc.mcw.edu. This mirror version is provided subject to copyright restrictions for educational use within the Inter-Instutional Collaborating Network on End-of-Life Care (IICN).