Readers have been helping me with the meaning of “terminal sedation,” a term the Dutch bishops employed in their statement on the Groningen Protocol (see below). From one reader:
The Church recognizes that in certain situation the application of opiates is necessary to ameliorate pain, but that at the doses necessary to do so breathing may be surpressed and the person may die. As long as the intent is to ease suffering and not to kill, it is licit.
[I]t is not considered euthanasia to administer whatever quantity of drugs is necessary to releive pain, even if it may or will certainly cause death. I know from personal experience that the withholding of morphine to surgical patients because of suppression of circulatory function allows real pain, but because it does to allow recovery it is with held. I understood that for terminal patients, one may freely treat the pain as needed even if it hastens death. A fine line, but real, and may be what the translated statement [by the Dutch bishops] means.