When withdrawal of life-sustaining care does more than allow death to take its course: The dilemma of left ventricular assist devices

Katrina A. Bramstedt*, Neil S. Wenger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: Left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) are a relatively new technology that is increasingly used to preserve cardiac function. These devices work by a mechanism that may complicate ethical decision-making for patients who subsequently lose decision-making capacity and are no longer considered transplant candidates. Methods: Using a clinical case from our medical center, we explored the complex ethical issues associated with the discontinuation of LVAD therapy by discussing how this device is distinct from the withdrawal of other treatments. Results: While halting an implanted LVAD may permit a patient to die, the deactivated device itself may contribute to patient death due to the potential for blood backflow and pooling, as well as the disruption of heart contractility. Inadequate informed consent and failure to appoint a surrogate decision-maker in advance of the implant procedure resulted in a complex ethical dilemma for the patient's family and the medical team. Conclusions: Clinicians and families must consider the benefits and burdens of LVAD therapy as they do when considering removal of other life-sustaining treatment. The informed consent process associated with LVADs as bridging technology should include extensive consideration of the purpose of the device, future circumstances in which it may be halted, and how such situations would be recognized and handled. Appointment of a surrogate decision-maker before the surgical procedure is essential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)544-548
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Heart and Lung Transplantation
Volume20
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

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