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Study finds drugs not used only to hasten death after plug pulled

Doctors who order drugs given to critically ill patients when they are taken off life-support systems do so mainly to comfort the patient and family, not to hasten death, according to a study published Tuesday.

"Our study has demonstrated that sedatives and analgesics were ordered and administered for the most part to relieve pain and suffering and never solely to hasten death during the withholding and withdrawal of life support from critically ill patients," said researchers at the University of California in San Francisco.

They based the conclusion on a study of 44 patients who were taken off life support, 33 of whom were given drugs.

The drugs were prescribed to decrease pain or to comfort family members in the vast majority of cases. Hastening death was cited in 39 percent of the cases, but always in combination with other factors.

"In no instance was hastening death cited as the only reason for ordering drugs by the physicians who did cite this reason," said the study published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

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