ADVANTAGES

Palliative sedation is common practice in hospitals worldwide. Burn victims or patients in intensive-care units are often sedated while doctors perform sensitive procedures or determine the next best pain-management treatment. One thing that distinguishes routine sedation from terminal sedation is that the latter often goes hand-in-hand with cutting off other medications or removing a patient's feeding tubes. On its face, this may sound to many people as automatically hastening a patient's death. But that's not the case, says Dr. Ira Byock, chair of palliative medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, who has performed terminal sedation for his patients. "This is a practice, when used correctly, that's only done in the final stages of life," Byock says. "At that point, nutrition or antibiotics can usually do nothing to prolong life." Indeed, Dutch researchers found that in 94% of the 6,500 cases they studied, the patient was sedated for less than one week before death.

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