BACKGROUND: In 2005, a national palliative guideline was launched in The Netherlands. The authors describe the practice of continuous palliative sedation until death (CPS) after the introduction of this guideline.
METHODS: In 2008, a random sample of physicians (n=1580) were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding the last patient in whom they had provided CPS until death.
RESULTS: The response was 38%. In all, 82% of the respondents were aware of the existence of the national guideline. Dyspnoea, pain and physical exhaustion were most often mentioned as decisive indications for continuous sedation. The decision to use sedation was discussed with all competent patients, but in 18% this merely involved informing the patient. Life expectancy at the start of continuous sedation was estimated to be less than 2 weeks in 97% of the cases. In 14%, the physicians had felt pressure to start the sedation, predominantly from patients and relatives. Physicians were present at the start of the sedation in 81% of the cases. Midazolam was used to induce the sedation in 92%. Overall, 41% of the physicians estimated that continuous sedation had hastened death to some extent. Most physicians thought that patients' complaints were adequately relieved by continuous sedation, that relatives were satisfied and that a good quality of dying was achieved.
INTERPRETATION: Continuous palliative sedation practice in The Netherlands largely reflects the recommendations from the national guideline. Issues needing further attention are the pressure felt by physicians to start continuous sedation and the potential life-shortening effect as mentioned by the physicians.