Objective: Although terminal sedation (TS) has generally been seen as legal and ethically acceptable, ethical and moral issues remain. Little is known about the use of TS in general clinical practice and about how TS is viewed by physicians, given moral and ethical concerns. The objectives of this study are (1) to describe attitudes of physicians regarding terminal sedation; (2) to explore demographic characteristics, such as age, gender, subspecialty, and number of years in practice, that might be related to the use of TS; and (3) to compare physicians who have and have not used TS on the degree to which they view TS as moral and consistent with their professional and personal ethics.
Methods: An anonymous survey of New Jersey physicians was conducted at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–School of Osteopathic Medicine. A 39-item questionnaire assessing general opinions about, experiences with, and religious, moral, ethical attitudes toward TS and other end-of-life treatments was utilized.
Results: A majority of physicians (73%) had used TS for a patient. Most (93%) said there were circumstances under which they would use TS. With regard to questions about whether TS would be “immoral,” “would violate my religious beliefs,” “would violate my professional ethics” and “is inconsistent with the physician's role of preserving life,” approximately 55% of those who have used TS disagreed; for those who have not used TS, approximately 35% disagreed.
Significance of results: Professional education and opportunities for discussion appear necessary to help reconcile the conflicts raised in the use of this end-of-life treatment strategy.