Withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy

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Purpose of review

The aim of this review is to examine literature relating to the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy (WLST).

Recent findings

Discussions regarding end-of-life issues in adults and children are not occurring comprehensively. Discussions relating to the WLST in the pediatric population varies by institution and may vary by race, age, health insurance, diagnosis, and severity of illness. Completing advance directives prior to placement of life-sustaining treatments is not consistent practice. With the WLST, differences in perspectives exist between medical specialties, within one specialty at different levels of training, and in physicians’ ethical and psychological responses to the WLST. The timing of WLST appears to be influenced by ICU strain and communication issues. Study outcomes differ regarding the functionally favorable survival of patients who have had WLST. Universal guidelines for the WLST may not address individual patient circumstances.


Discussions of end-of-life issues early in the course of a patient's health care will contribute to the healthcare team's understanding and respect of the patient's wishes. This article addresses the withdrawal of left ventricular assist devices; attending physicians and physicians in training perspectives of WLST; do physicians distinguish between withholding and WLST; the timing of WLST; guidelines for the process of WLST; and pediatrics and end-of-life decisions.

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