Ethical Analysis of Withdrawing Ventricular Assist Device Support

Mueller, Paul S.; Swetz, Keith M.; Freeman, Monica R.; Carter, Karl A.; Crowley, Mary Eliot; Anderson Severson, Cathy J.; Park, Soon J; Sulmasy, Daniel P.
September 2010
Mayo Clinic Proceedings;Sep2010, Vol. 85 Issue 9, p791
Academic Journal
OBJECTIVE: To describe a series of patients with heart failure supported with a ventricular assist device (VAD) who requested (or whose surrogates requested) withdrawal of VAD support and the legal and ethical aspects pertaining to these requests. PATIENTS AND METHODS: We retrospectiveiy reviewed the medical records of patients at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, from March 1, 2003, through January 31, 2009, who requested (or whose surrogates requested) withdrawal of VAD support and for whom the requests were fulfilled. We then explored the legal and ethical permissibility of carrying out such requests. RESULTS: The median age of the 14 patients identified (13 men, 1 woman) was 57 years. Requests were made by 2 patients and 12 surrogates. None of the patients' available advance directives mentioned the VAD. For 11 patients, multidisciplinary care conferences were held before withdrawal of VAD support. Only 1 patient had an ethics consultation. All 14 patients died within 1 day of withdrawal of VAD support. CONCLUSION: Patients have the right to refuse or request the withdrawal of any unwanted treatment, and we argue that this right extends to VAD support. We also argue that the cause of death in these cases is the underlying heart disease, not assisted suicide or euthanasia. Therefore, patients with heart failure supported with VADs or their surrogates may request withdrawal of this treatment. In our view, carrying out such requests is permissible in accordance with the principles that apply to withdrawing other life-sustaining treatments.


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