Category Archives: Withdrawal/Withholding of Care

Death Panels are Alive Standard

In a major medical center in California a 74-year-old patient who suffered a stroke had been in a coma and on a ventilator for one month. There were a variety of complications and comorbidities. According to his physicians the patient was not in a persistent vegetative state, but in a coma. The physicians recommended that the son and surrogate decision maker, consent to withdrawing the vent and allowing his father to die peacefully. His son was also admonished that if he did not consent he would then have 10 days to get his father out of the hospital or his…

Making Choices Standard

New Year resolutions are sometimes easy to make but hard to keep. Resolutions are choices, choices to live on and to better ourselves. For patients who are critically ill, resolve is often in short supply.  So, to physicians reading this I ask that one of your resolutions this coming year is to speak with patients about their end of life choices and help other physicians do the same. Many physicians are either reluctant to broach the subject, or not very good at discussing these issues, or both. Many feel that they will “cross that bridge when they get to it,”…

Waiting to Speak – Waiting for the Surrogate to Speak Standard

Why Wait The determination of a patient’s capacity to make decisions is based upon her understanding of her disease or illness and the risks and benefits of treatment. If she is unable to articulate a clear understanding it may be determined that she lacks the necessary capacity to make her own decision and is further taken out of the loop of information and adequate and legitimate updates on her condition. Concomitantly, surrogate decision makers are not always available to see the treating physicians and consults, and often get a cursory explanation of the patient’s condition. Physicians remain exceedingly reluctant to…

Withdrawing Life Sustaining Treatment -From Conscious, Non Terminal, Incompetent Part II Standard

Physician Liability: Withdrawing and Withholding Life Sustaining Care From  Conscious, Non Terminal, Incompetent Patients – Part II There are different standards that must be appreciated and respected before a physician can support a decision to withdraw life sustaining treatment from a non terminal and incompetent patient. This scenario requires the highest degree of protection for the patient. Our fundamental rights are the most important when we are the most vulnerable. Patients in this category are weak, often confused and subject to the effect of bias and undue influence. When illness requires life sustaining treatment family members may experience sympathy for…

Letting the Conscious Non-Terminal, Incompetent, Patient Die: Hold On a Minute – Not So Fast – Part I Standard

It is an injustice to cause patients to unnecessarily prolong the process of dying. Actual futile care must be avoided. But it is equally an injustice to easily acquiesce to patient’s demands that my result in unnecessary death. On August 17, 2010 the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided a case involving a non-terminal, profoundly mentally retarded patient. The patient was conscious and non-terminal. David is 53 years old. David’s parents were the guardians. His parents argued that putting him on the ventilator was not in his best interest and requested terminal extubation. The hospital refused. After several weeks his condition…

Withdrawing Life Sustaining Treatment – Betancourt v Trinitas – Life, Not Policy Standard

Ruben Betancourt, 72 years old, was unconscious following the dislodging of a ventilator breathing tube after surgery at Trinitas Medical Center, which resulted in anoxic encephalopathy. He was readmitted to Trinitas in July 2008 with a diagnosis of renal failure. He received dialysis treatments, remained on a ventilator, and feeding tube. The physicians at Trinitas diagnosed Mr. Betancourt as being in a persistent vegetative state and told the family of their intention to stop dialysis and allow him to die. The Superior Court in New Jersey held a two day hearing and thereafter enjoined the hospital from withdrawing life support without the consent…

New York will pass the Family Health Care Decisions Act Standard

 It has been 17 years since this bill was first introduced.   The New York State Senate will pass the Family Health Care Decisions Act (FHCDA), setting forth clear guidelines for family members and others close to the patient to make medical decisions for incapacitated patients. It will also provide physicians with uniform protocols to follow. In many instances there will continue to be confusion and concern for the rights of the patient. Diligent and thoughtful efforts will be needed to apply these guidelines properly. The following are some of the important points for clinicians:   If there is disagreement about…

A Staged Approach to Withdrawing Life Support Standard

A South Korean Ethics Committee uses a staged approach to Withdrawing Life Support In follow up to this blog’s April 23, 2009 post: “Letting the Conscious But Incompetent, Non Terminally Ill, Patient Die.” A South Korean hospital used a staged approach to consider the withdrawal of artificial life support based upon the condition of the patient. On June 11, 2009 an Ethics Committee at the Yonsei University Severance Hospital in Seoul Korea decided to remove a 77-year-old woman in a vegetative state from a respirator in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling.  Severance Hospital President Park Chang-il said:     “Though we…

Letting the Conscious But Incompetent, Non Terminally Ill, Patient Die Standard

It must not be too easy to withhold life sustaining treatment from any patient. When it comes to a conscious patient, who is not suffering from a terminal illness, we have to be unquestionably sure we know what we are doing.      A consulting physician contacted me expressing great concern that a 60 year old female patient who would likely die without surgery was being discharged. He said, “The patient is not terminal and is treatable. She needs surgery to survive – probably amputation of one or both lower extremities. The family wants her to be discharged home for…

Family Dilemmas in End of Life Care – Withdrawal of Artificial Nutrition and Hydration Standard

The patient, Larry M, is a man in his 40s with a wife and three children at his bedside. He is in end stage liver cancer. He has been receiving total parenteral nutrition and IV fluids and has now decided to have his feeding tube and IV fluids withdrawn and to then return home with his wife and children, and with the assistance of hospice, die as comfortably as possible. The patient feels that this is be best for him and helpful to his wife and children to go through this process with him. His physicians fully support this decision….