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Anaesth Intensive Care. 2004 Dec;32(6):781-6.

Withholding and withdrawal of therapy in New Zealand intensive care units (ICUs): a survey of clinical directors.

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Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, North Shore Hospital, Auckland 1309, New Zealand.


Withdrawing and withholding life-support therapy in patients who are unlikely to survive despite treatment are common practices in intensive care units (ICUs). The literature suggests there is a large variation in practice between different ICUs in different parts of the world. We conducted a postal survey among all public ICUs in New Zealand to investigate the pattern of practice in withholding and withdrawal of therapy. Nineteen ICUs responded to this survey and they represented 74% of all the public ICU beds and 83% of the annual ICU admissions. The percentage of ICU admissions with therapy withdrawn or withheld was less than 10% in most ICUs. Only a small percentage (21%) of ICUs had a formal policy in withholding and withdrawal of therapy. The timing of making the decision to withhold or withdraw therapy was very variable. The patient and/or the family, the primary medical team consultant, two or more ICU consultants, and ICU nurses were usually involved in the decision making process. ICU nurses were more commonly involved in the decision making process in smaller ICUs (5 beds vs 10 beds, P = 0.03). The patient's pre-ICU quality of life, medical comorbidities, predicted mortality, predicted post-ICU quality of life, and the family's wishes were important factors in deciding whether ICU therapy would be withheld or withdrawn. Hospice ward or the patient's home was the preferred place for palliative care in 32% of the responses.

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