The Rising Frequency of Continuous Deep Sedation in the Netherlands, a Repeated Cross-Sectional Survey in 2005, 2010, and 2015

Judith A. C. Rietjens, Madelon T. Heijltjes, Johannes J. M. van Delden, Bregje D. Onwuteaka-Philipsen, A. van der Heide

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Objectives: In the Netherlands, the use of continuous deep sedation at the end of life has sharply increased from 8.2% of all deaths in 2005 to 12.3% in 2010 to 18.3 % in 2015. We describe its clinical characteristics in 2015 and compare it with 2010 and 2005. Design: Questionnaire study in random samples of death reported to a central death registry. Setting and participants: A nationwide study in the Netherlands among physicians attending reported deaths. Methods: Continuous deep sedation characteristics (patient characteristics, drugs, duration, estimated shortening of life, and palliative consultation) from the Netherlands in 2015 were compared with continuous deep sedation characteristics of 2010 and 2005. Results: The response rate was 78% (n = 7277) in 2015, 74% (n = 6263) in 2010, and 78% (n = 6860) in 2005. The increased frequency of continuous deep sedation was notable in all patient subgroups, but mainly occurred among deaths attended by general practitioners, particularly in patients older than 80 years and patients with cancer. In 2015, continuous deep sedation was performed in 93% of the patients through administration of benzodiazepines. In 3% of the patients, the sedation lasted more than 1 week. Furthermore, 60% of the physicians reported that they had no intention to hasten death, 38% reported that they have taken hastening of death into account, and 2% reported their intention was to hasten death. For 1 in 5 patients, a palliative care expert was consulted prior to the start of sedation. These characteristics were comparable between 2015 and 2010. Conclusions and implications: The increase in continuous deep sedation mainly occurred in deaths attended by general practitioners, especially in older patients and patients with cancer. As there are no major shifts in demographic and epidemiologic patterns of dying, future studies should investigate possible explanations for the increase predominantly in societal developments, such as increased attention to sedation in education and society, a broader interpretation of the concept of refractoriness, and an increased need of patients and physicians to control the dying process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1367-1372
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Medical Directors Association
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • Continuous deep sedation
  • end-of-life care
  • palliative care
  • palliative sedation
  • terminal sedation
  • the Netherlands

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