Sedation for the care of patients with advanced cancer

Nat Clin Pract Oncol. 2006 Sep;3(9):492-500. doi: 10.1038/ncponc0583.


Sedation in the context of palliative medicine is the monitored use of medications to induce varying degrees of unconsciousness to bring about a state of decreased or absent awareness (i.e. unconsciousness) in order to relieve the burden of otherwise intractable suffering. Sedation is used in palliative care in several settings: transient controlled sedation, sedation in the management of refractory symptoms at the end of life, emergency sedation, respite sedation, and sedation for refractory psychological or existential suffering. Sedation is controversial in that it diminishes the capacity of the patient to interact, function, and, in some cases, live. There is no distinct ethical problem in the use of sedation to relieve otherwise intolerable suffering in patients who are dying. Since all medical treatments involve risks and benefits, each potential option must be evaluated for its promise with regards to achieving the goals of care. When risks of treatment are involved, to be justified these risks must be proportionate to the gravity of the clinical indication. Some aspects of management, such as the need for hydration in patients undergoing sedation and the use of sedation in the management of psychological and spiritual suffering, remain controversial.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Stress, Psychological / drug therapy*
  • Stress, Psychological / mortality
  • Terminal Care / statistics & numerical data


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives