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Palliative Sedation

The decision whether to sedate a patient at the end of life is difficult and involves many factors. The goal of palliative sedation is not to shorten life but to make the end of life more comfortable. Palliative sedation may be considered in order to relieve uncontrolled physical suffering, depression, or anxiety. Certain drugs are given to sedate the patient and may be combined with treatment for pain and agitation. Palliative sedation may be temporary, as in patients with delirium or trouble breathing.

A patient's thoughts and feelings about end-of-life sedation may depend greatly on his or her own culture and beliefs. Some patients who are nearing the end of life may want to be sedated. Other patients may wish to have no procedures, including sedation, just before death. It is important for the patient to tell family members and health care providers of his or her wishes about sedation at the end of life. When patients make their wishes about sedation known ahead of time, doctors and family members can be sure they are doing what the patient would want.