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Perspectives on Withdrawing Pacemaker and Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator Therapies at End of Life: Results of a Survey of Medical and Legal Professionals and Patients

      OBJECTIVE

      To determine the opinions of medical professionals, legal professionals, and patients regarding the withdrawal of implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) and pacemaker therapy at the end of life.

      PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS

      A survey regarding 5 cases that focused on withdrawal of ICD or pacemaker therapy at the end of life was constructed and sent to 5270 medical professionals, legal professionals, and patients. The survey was administered from March 1, 2008, to March 1, 2009.

      RESULTS

      Of the 5270 recipients of the survey, 658 (12%) responded. In a terminally ill patient requesting that his ICD be turned off, most legal professionals (90% [63/70]), medical professionals (98% [330/336]), and patients (85% [200/236]) agreed the ICD should be turned off. Most legal professionals (89%), medical professionals (87%), and patients (79%) also considered withdrawal of pacemaker therapy in a non–pacemaker-dependent patient appropriate. However, significantly more legal (81%) than medical professionals (58%; P<.001) or patients (68%, P=.02) agreed with turning off a pacemaker in the pacemaker-dependent patient. A similar number of legal professionals thought turning off a device was legal regardless of whether it was an ICD or pacemaker (45% vs 38%; P=.50). However, medical professionals were more likely to perceive turning off an ICD as legal than turning off a pacemaker (85% vs 41%; P<.001).

      CONCLUSION

      Most respondents thought device therapy should be withdrawn if the patient requested its withdrawal at the end of life. However, opinions of medical professionals and patients tended to be dependent on the type of device, with turning off ICDs being perceived as more acceptable than turning off pacemakers, whereas legal professionals tended to perceive all devices as similar. Thus, education and discussion regarding managing devices at the end of life are important when having end-of-life discussions and making end-of-life decisions to better understand patients' perceptions and expectations.
      ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator), PM (pacemaker)
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