Continuous deep sedation at the end of life: a qualitative interview-study among health care providers on an evolving practice

BMC palliative care(2023)

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Background Continuous deep sedation (CDS) can be used for patients at the end of life who suffer intolerably from severe symptoms that cannot be relieved otherwise. In the Netherlands, the use of CDS is guided by an national guideline since 2005. The percentage of patients for whom CDS is used increased from 8% of all patients who died in 2005 to 18% in 2015. The aim of this study is to explore potential causes of the rise in the use of CDS in the Netherlands according to health care providers who have been participating in this practice. Methods Semi-structured interviews were conducted and thematically analysed. Participants were Dutch health care providers (HCPs), working at patients’ homes, hospices, elderly care facilities and in hospitals and experienced in providing CDS, who were recruited via purposeful sampling. Results 41 Health care providers participated in an interview. For these HCPs the reason to start CDS is often a combination of symptoms resulting in a refractory state. HCPs indicated that symptoms of non-physical origin are increasingly important in the decision to start CDS. Most HCPs felt that suffering at the end of life is less tolerated by patients, their relatives, and sometimes by HCPs; they report more requests to relieve suffering by using CDS. Some HCPs in our study have experienced increasing pressure to perform CDS. Some HCPs stated that they more often used intermittent sedation, sometimes resulting in CDS. Conclusions This study provides insight into how participating HCPs perceive that their practice of CDS changed over time. The combination of a broader interpretation of refractory suffering by HCPs and a decreased tolerance of suffering at the end of life by patients, their relatives and HCPs, may have led to a lower threshold to start CDS. Trial registration The Research Ethics Committee of University Medical Center Utrecht assessed that the study was exempt from ethical review according to Dutch law (Protocol number 19–435/C).
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