Euthanasia and palliative sedation in Belgium

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Abstract

The aim of this article is to use data from Belgium to analyse distinctions between palliative sedation and euthanasia. There is a need to reduce confusion and improve communication related to patient management at the end of life specifically regarding the rapidly expanding area of patient care that incorporates a spectrum of nuanced yet overlapping terms such as palliative care, sedation, palliative sedation, continued sedation, continued sedation until death, terminal sedation, voluntary euthanasia and involuntary euthanasia. Some physicians and nurses mistakenly think that relieving suffering at the end of life by heavily sedating patients is a form of euthanasia, when indeed it is merely responding to the ordinary and proportionate needs of the patient. Concerns are raised about abuse in the form of deliberate involuntary euthanasia, obfuscation and disregard for the processes sustaining the management of refractory suffering at the end of life. Some suggestions designed to improve patient management and prevent potential abuse are offered.

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