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Palliative Sedation in The Netherlands: Starting-points and Contents of a National Guideline

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In December 2005 the first national guideline for palliative sedation in the Netherlands was published. This guideline was developed by a committee of the Royal Dutch Medical Association, at the request of the Dutch government. The guideline defines palliative sedation as 'the intentional lowering of consciousness of a patient in the last phase of his or her life'. According to the guideline the objective of palliative sedation is to relieve suffering, and lowering consciousness is a means to achieve this. It is very important that palliative sedation is given for the right indication, proportionally, and adequately. It is the degree of symptom control, not the level to which consciousness is lowered, which determines the dose and combinations of the sedatives used and duration of treatment. The assessment and decision-making processes must focus on adequate relief of the patient's suffering, so that a peaceful and acceptable situation is created. Palliative sedation is given in the last phase of life, in the imminently dying patient. Palliative sedation raises several legal questions. In this article we describe the structure and contents of the guideline, with special attention for the main legal issues involved, like the distinction between palliative sedation and euthanasia and the process of informed conesnt.

Affiliations: 1: Royal Dutch Medical Association and Professor of Health Law, EMGO Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; 2: Professor of Medical Ethics, University Medical Centre Groningen; 3: Policy counsel, Royal Dutch Medical Association; 4: Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, University Medical Centre Utrecht


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