Dying patients in the intensive care unit: forgoing treatment, maintaining care.
End-of-life care of patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) often requires dramatic shifts in attitudes and interventions, from traditional intensive rescue care to intensive palliative care. The care of patients dying in ICUs raises both clinical and ethical difficulties. Because fewer ICU patients are able to make decisions about withdrawing treatment, careful attention must be paid to previously expressed preferences and surrogate input. Cultural and spiritual values of patients and families may differ markedly from those of clinicians. Although prognostic models are increasingly able to predict mortality rates for groups of ICU patients, their usefulness in guiding specific decisions to forego treatment has not been established. When a decision to forego treatment is made, the focus should be on specifying the patient's goals of care and assessing all treatments in light of these goals; interventions that do not contribute to the patient's goals should be discontinued. Symptoms accompanying withdrawal of life support can almost always be controlled with appropriate palliative measures. After ICU interventions are foregone, patient comfort must be the paramount objective. Whether in the ICU or elsewhere, hospitals have an ethical obligation to provide settings that offer dignified, compassionate, and skilled care.
Faber-Langendoen, K; Lanken, PN
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