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Withholding and Withdrawing Care. Walter S. Davis, MD UVA Center for Biomedical Ethics Assistant Professor, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Withholding Vs. Withdrawing. Active Vs passive distinction Conventional wisdom in medicine said withdrawing is “harder” than withholding

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withholding and withdrawing care

Withholding and Withdrawing Care

Walter S. Davis, MD

UVA Center for Biomedical Ethics

Assistant Professor, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

withholding vs withdrawing
Withholding Vs. Withdrawing
  • Active Vs passive distinction
  • Conventional wisdom in medicine said withdrawing is “harder” than withholding
  • This has been challenged by modern medical ethicists - withholding a treatment that has not been tried is “morally” harder than withdrawing one that has not proven beneficial
benefits burdens standard
“Benefits/Burdens Standard”
  • Benefits
    • health benefits - treatment of disease or symptoms
    • quality-of-life benefits - improved mental status or physical comfort
  • Burdens
    • increased pain, suffering, debilitation
    • reduced quality of life
what do we know about patients intensive care experiences
What do we know about patients’ intensive care experiences?
  • There is evidence of significant suffering in ICU patients with regards to pain, dyspnea, anxiety, sleep disturbance, depression
  • A substantial majority of physicians managing ICU care did not specifically discuss prognosis with families
  • 54% of family representatives did not understand the diagnosis and prognosis immediately following a conference with the treating MD
  • MD’s do 75% of the talking in family conferences
challenges unique to the icu setting
Challenges Unique to the ICU Setting
  • Often no prior relationship with patient or family
  • Traditional separation of intensive care/palliative care
  • Patient often not a participant in discussions
  • Families unable to participate in high-tech care
advance directives
Advance Directives
  • The great hope of the 80’s and 90’s
  • May not significantly affect the aggressiveness or cost of ICU care
  • Do not change decision-making in the ICU
  • Can be difficult to interpret for a given patient
  • What is “terminal”?
  • What is “extraordinary means”?
  • What is “quality of life”?
  • Focus now may turn towards “advance care planning”
brain death
Brain Death
  • Patient is considered legally dead
  • Criteria for diagnosis include combination of neurologic physical exam and testing (apnea test/EEG)
  • Cardiopulmonary support sometimes continued until family or others arrive
  • Conceptually simple, but can be difficult in practice
slide8
Coma
  • Relatively short-term (weeks)
  • Eyes closed, no evidence of wakefulness
  • No evidence of communication or purposeful movement
  • Often progresses to PVS
persistent vegetative state pvs
Persistent Vegetative State (PVS)
  • First described in 1972
  • No evidence of awareness of self or others - unable to interact
  • Intermittent sleep-wake cycles
  • Some preserved cranial and spinal reflexes
  • No purposeful behavioral responses
  • New guidelines recommend the term “vegetative state” and specify diagnostic criteria and an algorithm
locked in syndrome
“Locked-In” Syndrome
  • Patients are awake, alert, with normal cognition (to the extent that it can be tested)
  • Often caused by pontine infarction or hemorrhage
  • Profound quadriplegia, some preserved eye movements
  • Can be confused with coma or PVS
landmark cases in futility ethics
Landmark Cases in Futility Ethics
  • 1975 - Karen Ann Quinlan
  • 1983 - Nancy Cruzan
  • 1995 - Hugh Finn
  • 2005 – Terri Schiavo
quinlan 1975
Quinlan, 1975
  • 21 yo NJ woman with severe anoxic brain injury after alcohol/drug overdose
  • Dx: PVS
  • Required ventilator and artificial feeding/hydration
  • Father petitioned to stop vent several months later
  • Opposed by physicians, backed by local court and State Attorney General
  • NJ Supreme Court granted request
  • KQ died 10 years later
new jersey supreme court in quinlan 1975
New Jersey Supreme Court in Quinlan, 1975

“the State’s interest (in the preservation of life) weakens and the individual’s right of privacy grows as the degree of bodily invasion increases and the prognosis dims. Ultimately, there comes a point at which the individual’s rights overcome the State’s interest.”

cruzan 1983
Cruzan, 1983
  • 25 yo with PVS after MVA
  • Required artificial feeding and hydration but not ventilator
  • After 4 years, parents asked that hospital stop tube feedings - hospital refused
  • Final decision by U.S. Supreme Court affirmed competent person’s right to refuse any life-sustaining treatment, and for incapacitated persons, left to the States the issue of whether legal standard of substituted judgment would be satisfied by only verbal statements
  • NC died 1990, 13 days after feeding tube removed
finn 1995
Finn, 1995
  • 44 yo television newscaster with PVS after MVA
  • Wife, sister, and physician wanted feeding tube removed
  • Finn’s parents and brothers disagreed
  • Governor James Gilmore intervened to block removal of tube, citing the State’s interest in “protecting its most vulnerable citizens”
  • Decision overruled by local and State Supreme Court
  • Hugh Finn dies 1998 after removal of tube
  • Court refuses to force State to pay wife’s legal fees
schiavo 2005
Schiavo, 2005
  • 1990 - 27yo woman suffers cardiac arrest secondary to potassium imbalance, with subsequent anoxic brain injury and PVS
  • Husband Michael Schiavo is guardian
  • Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, oppose removing Terri’s feeding tube
  • Florida Gov. Jeb Bush intervenes in 2003
  • Florida House passes “Terri’s Law” that allows one-time stay in certain cases
who opposes withholding and withdrawing care and why
Who opposes withholding and withdrawing care, and why?
  • Advocacy groups for persons with disabilities (NDY)
  • “Right to Life” groups
  • Some religious groups and organizations
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