End-of-life practices vary worldwide. The objective was to demonstrate that there is no clear-cut distinction between treatments administered to relieve pain and suffering and those intended to shorten the dying process.
Secondary analysis of a prospective, observational study.
Thirty-seven intensive care units in 17 European countries.
Consecutive patients dying or with any limitation of therapy.
Evaluation of the type of end-of-life category; dates and times of intensive care unit admission, death, or discharge; and decisions to limit therapy, medication, and doses used for active shortening of the dying process and the intent of the doctors prescribing the medication.
Measurements and Main Results:
Limitation of life-sustaining therapy occurred in 3,086 (72.6%) of 4,248 patients, and 94 (2.2%) underwent active shortening of the dying process. Medication for active shortening of the dying process included administration of opiates (morphine to 71 patients) or benzodiazepines (diazepam to 54 patients) alone or in combination. The median dosage for morphine was 25.0 mg/hr and for diazepam 20.8 mg/hr. Doses of opiates and benzodiazepines were no higher than mean doses used with withdrawal in previous studies in 20 of 66 patients and were within the ranges of doses used in all but one patient. Doctors considered that medications for active shortening of the dying process definitely led to the patient's death in 72 patients (77%), probably led to the patient's death in 11 (12%), and were unlikely to have led to death in 11 (12%) patients.
There is a gray area in end-of-life care between treatments administered to relieve pain and suffering and those intended to shorten the dying process.