Characteristics and Outcomes of Ethics Consultations in an Oncologic Intensive Care Unit


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Abstract

Objective:To evaluate the frequency, characteristics, and outcomes of ethics consultations in critically ill patients with cancer.Design, Setting, and Methods:This is a retrospective analysis of all adult patients with cancer who were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) of a comprehensive cancer center and had an ethics consultation between September 2007 and December 2011. Demographic and clinical variables were abstracted along with the details and contexts of the ethics consultations.Main Results:Ethics consultations were obtained on 53 patients (representing 1% of all ICU admissions). The majority (90%) of patients had advanced-stage malignancies, had received oncologic therapies within the past 12 months, and required mechanical ventilation and/or vasopressor therapy for respiratory failure and/or severe sepsis. Two-thirds of the patients lacked decisionmaking capacity and nearly all had surrogates. The most common reasons for ethics consultations were disagreements between the patients/surrogates and the ICU team regarding end-of-life care. After ethics consultations, the surrogates agreed with the recommendations made by the ICU team on the goals of care in 85% of patients. Moreover, ethics consultations facilitated the provision of palliative medicine and chaplaincy services to several patients who did not have these services offered to them prior to the ethics consultations.Conclusion:Our study showed that ethics consultations were helpful in resolving seemingly irreconcilable differences between the ICU team and the patients' surrogates in the majority of cases. Additionally, these consultations identified the need for an increased provision of palliative care and chaplaincy visits for patients and their surrogates at the end of life.

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