Gepost in: Ethiek

What to do when a competent ICU patient does not want to live anymore but is dependent on life-sustaining treatment? Experience from The Netherlands

If patients on the intensive care unit (ICU) are awake and life-sustaining treatment is suspended because of the patients’ request, because of recovering from the disease, or because independence from organ function supportive or replacement therapy outside the ICU can no longer be achieved, these patients can suffer before they inevitably die. In The Netherlands, two scenarios are possible for these patients: (1) deep palliative (terminal) sedation through ongoing administration of barbiturates or benzodiazepines before withdrawal of treatment, or (2) deliberate termination of life (euthanasia) before termination of treatment. In this article we describe two awake patients who asked for withdrawal of life-sustaining measures, but who were dependent on mechanical ventilation. We discuss the doctrine of double effect in relation to palliative sedation on the ICU. Administration of sedatives and analgesics before withdrawal of treatment is seen as normal palliative care. We conclude that the doctrine of the double effect is not applicable in this situation, and mentioning it criminalised the practice unnecessarily and wrongfully.




Ben van der Hoven, Yorick J. de Groot, Wilhelmina J. Thijsse, Erwin J. O. Kompanje


Intensive Care Med (2010) 36:2145–2148