Contradictions in end-of-life decisions for self and other, expressed by relatives of chronically ventilated patients

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Abstract

Objectives

In certain populations, social, legal, and religious factors may influence end-of-life decisions in ventilator-dependent patients. This study aims to evaluate attitudes of first-degree relatives of chronically ventilated patients in Israel, toward end-of-life decisions regarding their loved ones, themselves, and unrelated others.

Materials and Methods

The study was conducted in a chronic ventilation unit. First-degree family members of chronically ventilated patients were interviewed about their end-of-life attitudes for patients with end-stage diseases. Distinctions were made between attitudes in the case of their ventilated relatives, themselves, and unrelated others; between conscious and unconscious patients; and between a variety of interventions.

Results

Thirty-one family members of 25 patients were interviewed. Median length of ventilation at the time of the interview was 13.4 months. Most interviewees wanted further interventions for their ventilated relatives, yet, for themselves, only 21% and 18% supported chronic ventilation and resuscitation, respectively, and 48% would want to be disconnected from the ventilator. Interventions were more likely to be endorsed for others (vs self), for the conscious self (vs unconscious self), and for artificial feeding (vs chronic ventilation and resuscitation). Interviewees were reluctant to disconnect patients from a ventilator.

Conclusions

Family members often want escalation of treatment for their ventilated relatives; however, most would not wish to be chronically ventilated or resuscitated under similar circumstances. Advance directives may reconcile people's wishes at the end of their own lives with their reticence to make decisions regarding others.

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