Palliative and Supportive Care

Original Articles

The perspective of the nursing staff on terminal sedation in pediatric onco-hematology: A phenomenologic-hermeneutic study

Debora Tringalia1, Rosapia Lauro-Grottoa2 c1 and Massimo Papinia1a3


a2 Department of Psychology, University of Florence, Florence, Italy

a3 Department of Neurological and Psychiatric Sciences, University of Florence, Florence, Italy


Objective: The study was designed to explore the subjective perspective on end-of-life practices in three different groups of pediatric onco-hematologic nurses.

Method: In 2004–2005 each member of the nursing staff of the Pediatric Onco-Hematology Ward of the University of Padua, Italy, and the Oncology Ward and Home Assistance Module of the Giannetta Gaslini Hospital, Genoa, Italy was interviewed using a semistructured questionnaire with open questions on end-of-life procedures. The results were returned to the interviewees through group meetings. Here, we examine replies given regarding terminal sedation.

Results: With regard to the nurses from Padua, common features came together in a consolidated practice. The amount of suffering and physical pain was considered an element in determining the use of sedation: “when there is atrocious suffering.” Another aspect was “painful awareness,” the difficulty in being able to bear the fact that the child is aware that death is imminent. The nurses from Genoa stated that the procedure was adopted mainly for three reasons: to sedate the pain, to calm the hunger for air, and to control the anguish caused by the realization that death was imminent or unavoidable. It was noted that the nursing staff of the Home Assistance Unit, Genoa found themselves in a privileged position regarding this procedure both because of the strong relationship established among child, parents, and nurse, and because of being able to take shared decisions after in-depth discussion.

Significance of results: The results enlighten the critical role of the nursing staff with respect to this procedure, given the involvement with the families and their ability to understand the child's demands and intimate expectations.

(Received May 02 2012)

(Accepted July 07 2012)


  • Phenomenologic-hermeneutic approach;
  • Pediatric onco-hematology;
  • terminal sedation;
  • Hospital staff


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Rosapia Lauro-Grotto, Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università degli Studi di Firenze, Via San Salvi 12, Padiglione 26, 50135 Firenze, Italia. E-mail: