Withdrawal and limitation of life support in paediatric intensive care

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Abstract

Objectives

To compare the modes of death and factors leading to withdrawal or limitation of life support in a paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in a developing country.

Methods

Retrospective analysis of all children (< 12 years) dying in the PICU from January 1995 to December 1995 and January 1997 to June 1998 (n = 148).

Results

The main mode of death was by limitation of treatment in 68 of 148 patients, failure of active treatment including cardiopulmonary resuscitation in 61, brain death in 12, and withdrawal of life support with removal of endotracheal tube in seven. There was no significant variation in the proportion of limitation of treatment, failure of active treatment, and brain death between the two periods; however, there was an increase in withdrawal of life support from 0% in 1995 to 8% in 1997-98. Justification for limitation was based predominantly on expectation of imminent death (71 of 75). Ethnic variability was noted among the 14 of 21 patients who refused withdrawal. Discussions for care restrictions were initiated almost exclusively by paediatricians (70 of 75). Diagnostic uncertainty (36% v 4.6%) and presentation as an acute illness were associated with the use of active treatment.

Conclusions

Limitation of treatment is the most common mode of death in a developing country's PICU and active withdrawal is still not widely practised. Paediatricians in developing countries are becoming more proactive in managing death and dying but have to consider sociocultural and religious factors when making such decisions.

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