Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

John Hardwig

Committee Members

David Reidy, Glenn Grabor, Nan Gaylord


This dissertation will support full ethical endorsement of terminal sedation for those most urgently in crisis and need of beneficence, those who are dying and in the final hours or days and suffering. To clarify the practice I first detail ethical differences between euthanasia, physician assisted suicide and terminal sedation. Moreover, I identify new areas where harms and benefits need to be evaluated as affecting not only patients, but also families and caregivers. I evaluate the current practice to allow the development of ethical guidelines and greater consensus on deciding the hard cases. This work may also serve to assist those looking to enlarge the practice in the future with ETS for those with debilitating diseases or disability, but they are not my primary goal.

Below is the standard I propose for moral allowability for the use of terminal sedation. I will refer to it often in the pages that follow simply as

my standard


Terminal sedation is the appropriate and intentional use of medications (benzodiazepines and/or narcotics) to produce ongoing, deep unconsciousness upon 1) a terminal patient’s (or surrogates) request due to 2) suffering intractable pain or other distressing clinical symptoms intolerable to the patient when 3) death is expected within hours or days (less than two weeks)

due to the terminal illness, injury, or disease.

I offer two versions of initial guidelines for development of hospital policy. The first version outlines minimal guidelines that ought to be utilized to allow TS for patients who fit my standard. The minimal guideline is based upon the recommendations of the American Medical Association with some modifications. The guideline is admittedly restrictive in hopes of gaining wider societal support for a currently controversial practice. Secondly, I offer more moderate guidelines for policy that could become a standard in the future. It maintains the restrictive focus of the minimal guidelines and offers additional education and support to others which has yet to be broadly provided. The moderate guidelines would mark an important step forward for allowing more choices in dying and offering additional supports to those involved with dying patients.

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