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Original Investigation
March 9, 2009

Changed Patterns in Dutch Palliative Sedation Practices After the Introduction of a National Guideline

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Anaesthesiology, Pain, and Palliative Medicine, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(5):430-437. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.613

Background  Continuous sedation, contrary to euthanasia, has been increasingly accepted among medical professionals worldwide. In the Netherlands, a national guideline for continuous palliative sedation has been developed to contribute to the quality of palliative sedation practice. The present follow-up study investigated whether the practice of continuous sedation has changed after the introduction of this guideline.

Methods  This study compared the practice of continuous sedation before and after the introduction of the guideline on December 7, 2005. A baseline measurement was performed between February 1, 2003, and May 1, 2005, with an enrollment of 492 physicians (medical specialists, general practitioners, and nursing home physicians). From January 1 to June 30, 2007, after the introduction of a national guideline for palliative sedation, a follow-up study was performed with the respondents of the baseline study. Physicians were asked to report on their last case of deep and continuous sedation in the past 12 months.

Results  This study reports the results of the follow-up study and compares them to the results of the baseline study. The response rate was 69.3% (n = 341). Of these physicians, 160 reported a last case of continuous sedation in both the baseline and the follow-up studies. Physicians reported a significant increase in patient involvement in decision making, from 72.3% to 82.2%. Pain remained the most often reported reason to start sedation, whereas exhaustion as a reason for sedation increased. The use of benzodiazepines increased from 69.9% to 90.4%. In the first and second measurements, symptom-directed treatment during sedation was applied in 56% to 58% of the cases. In the second period, there was more often an explicit decision to not give artificial hydration during sedation (78.8% vs 56.3%). Of the physicians, 34.2% were convinced that sedation shortened the life of the patient because of dehydration.

Conclusions  After the introduction of the guideline, physicians reported that changes in palliative sedation practice conform to the recommendations of this guideline. For example, benzodiazepines were used for sedation more frequently than before and patient involvement in the decision-making process improved. Possible effects of dehydration and the large variation in symptom-directed treatment during sedation deserve careful attention.