Mailbox: Don't confuse hospice care with terminal sedation

There is a very grave danger that proponents of euthanasia will seek to justify terminal sedation for those who are dying and in great pain ("Terminal sedation is stealthy euthanasia"; April 4).

There is also a gross misconception that hospice care is about dying when, in fact, it is about helping those who are suffering from pain to live as well as possible through the relief of their pain and other symptoms.

Hospice care is, in fact, a philosophy of care to make doctors more humane and caring by focusing not on the disease, but on the patients and their loved ones.

Hospice care also recognises that death is a part of life and that futile treatments serve only to increase the patient's suffering and prolong death and not life.

When patients are at the end of life, they are unable to eat nor drink. This is the natural process of dying as the body is shutting down.

In hospice care, patients are not sedated in order to withdraw nutrition.

Patients at the end of life very often lose consciousness through the failure of the functions of the liver, kidney and brain. At such times, they may also be very restless and confused and may need to be sedated.

This should not be confused with terminal sedation, which is advocated by those who practise euthanasia.

With good and effective hospice care, many patients who initially requested euthanasia have been able to live fully until they die.

The dying have so much to teach us about living fully in the midst of suffering. It would be foolish to shorten their lives with terminal sedation.

Patrick Kee Chin Wah (Dr)

This article was first published on April 13, 2015.
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