Variations in the Operational Process of Withdrawal of Life-Sustaining Therapy

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Objective:The process of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy remains poorly described in the current literature despite its importance for patient comfort and optimal end-of-life care. We conducted a structured review of the published literature to summarize patterns of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy processes in adult ICUs.Data Sources:Electronic journal databases were searched from date of first issue until April 2014.Study Selection:Original research articles describing processes of life-support therapy withdrawal in North American, European, and Australian ICUs were included.Data Extraction:From each article, we extracted definitions of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy, descriptions and order of interventions withdrawn, drugs administered, and timing from withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy until death.Data Synthesis:Fifteen articles met inclusion criteria. Definitions of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy varied and focused on withdrawal of mechanical ventilation; two studies did not present operational definitions. All studies described different aspects of process of life-support therapy withdrawal and measured different time periods prior to death. Staggered patterns of withdrawal of life-support therapy were reported in all studies describing order of interventions withdrawn, with vasoactive drugs withdrawn first followed by gradual withdrawal of mechanical ventilation. Processes of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy did not seem to influence time to death.Conclusions:Further description of the operational processes of life-sustaining therapy withdrawal in a more structured manner with standardized definitions and regular inclusion of measures of patient comfort and family satisfaction with care is needed to identify which patterns and processes are associated with greatest perceived patient comfort and family satisfaction with care.

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