Ethical and legal perspective of implantable cardioverter defibrillator deactivation or implantable cardioverter defibrillator generator replacement in the elderly

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Purpose of review

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implantation has become a common and standard treatment for primary and secondary prevention of sudden cardiac death in patients with poor left ventricular ejection fraction across the world. Circumstances, of course, change after the initial implant as patients age. This raises legal and ethical questions about deactivating or not replacing ICD generators when the likelihood of meaningful benefit has diminished.

Recent findings

Health professionals are reluctant to discuss the end-of-life planning with patients who have ICDs. Older patients are more likely to have multiple comorbidities that worsen or accumulate further after initial implantation and attenuate the survival benefit of ICDs. Joint guidelines suggest physicians educate patients during the initial consent process about the possibility of deactivating ICDs after implantation if their individual situation changes to the point of futility.


ICD deactivation and nonreplacement are unavoidable issues that require clarity for meaningful and ethical implementation. This is an ongoing process.

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