Morphine at End of Life

By Grace Blanchard RN, CHPN, Hospice & Palliative Care

In nearly every conversation I have with patients and their families, I’m told the most important goal is for the patient not to suffer.  In hospice care, one of the treatments we regularly use to relieve discomfort is morphine.

Many caregivers outside of hospice aren’t comfortable giving morphine to a dying patient.  According to The Medical College of Wisconsin, some physicians and nurses may “inaccurately believe that morphine has an unusually or unacceptably high risk of an adverse event that may cause death, particularly when the patient is frail or close to the end of his or her life.”  When non-hospice nurses express their hesitation in giving morphine to these patients, I remind them that as RNs, they have the appropriate skills to assess and treat symptoms with the medicines that are ordered.  If a patient is dying and is in pain, and the intent is to relieve the pain, there is nothing unethical about giving morphine, even if the patient dies soon after the dose is administered.

All pharmacological interventions have the potential for side effects.  However, morphine has proven to be an invaluable tool in treating terminal patients.  According to the Hospice Foundation of America,

“Morphine provides not only relief of severe, chronic pain; it also provides a sense of comfort.  It makes breathing easier.  It lets the patient relax and sleep.  It does not cloud consciousness or lead to death.  Morphine does not kill.”

In my practice, I use the tools of assessment and intervention to treat uncomfortable symptoms.  I have given morphine to many patients who have died within minutes of administration.  I did not kill those patients- they were already in the process of dying.  What I did was make the last moments of their lives calm, comfortable, and peaceful.  I feel so grateful and blessed that I was able to help those patients and their families meet their most important goal.









About the author

I am passionate about sharing senior citizen news and resources discovered from both my profession and personal journey.

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