Palliative sedation: clinical context and ethical questions.
Practitioners of palliative medicine frequently encounter patients suffering distress caused by uncontrolled pain or other symptoms. To relieve such distress, palliative medicine clinicians often use measures that result in sedation of the patient. Often such sedation is experienced as a loss by patients and their family members, but sometimes such sedation is sought as the desired outcome. Peace is wanted. Comfort is needed. Sedation appears to bring both. Yet to be sedated is to be cut off existentially from human experience, to be made incapable of engaging self-consciously in any human action. To that extent, it seems that to lose consciousness is to lose something of real value. In this paper, I describe how sedation and the question of intentionally bringing about sedation arise in the care of patients with advanced illness, and I propose heuristics to guide physicians, including Christian physicians, who seek to relieve suffering without contradicting their profession to heal.
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