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Ethics Behav. 1992;2(1):63-71.

Case vignette: premature surrender.


Three commentaries are offered on the following case: George, age 57, is a previously healthy man who recently underwent surgery for removal of a low-grade malignant thymoma. At the time of admission to the hospital, George stressed to the staff that he had long ago signed a "living will," which he renewed immediately after he learned of his cancer diagnosis. At the time of surgery, the tumor was found to extend into his mediastinum; although it was removable, this required revision of part of the sternum and grafting of the vessels feeding the heart chambers. Because of the resultant tissue damage and neuronal hyperactivity, George experienced postoperative episodes of cardiac arrhythmia and bronchospasm. Unanimous medical opinion was that this situation was a temporary problem that would resolve itself as the tissues healed. Until that time, however, it will be difficult to wean him from ventilatory support. When his stay in the intensive care unit became prolonged, George and his family began to insist that his status be changed to "do not resuscitate" and reminded the staff about his longstanding living will. All of this is happening despite the fact that the patient and family seemingly comprehend that although the short-term interventions are invasive, there is a high probability of a successful outcome. George's cancer prognosis is excellent, and, although he may well have an episode of life-threatening arrhythmia, he is likely to respond to resuscitation interventions. Once the immediate postoperative period is over, his potential for a long and productive life with full capacities is excellent. Consider the following questions: (a) Should George's expressed wishes be respected, or should the staff take additional steps to help him survive the postoperative period, even if that means violating his stated wishes? and (b) What steps might the staff follow in sorting through this problem?

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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