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Respir Care. 2007 Aug;52(8):996-9.

End-of-life decision making in 42 patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

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Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Georgetown University, Washington, District of Columbia.



To determine when end-of-life issues were discussed with patients afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


This was a retrospective analysis of ALS patients referred to the neuromuscular clinic at Georgetown University Hospital. Patients were seen by a pulmonologist and a neurologist at the initial diagnosis or referral, and every 2-3 months thereafter. End-of-life discussions were addressed at each visit. Other variables recorded included the amount of time afflicted with ALS, serial pulmonary function test results, and the subjective level of bulbar dysfunction.


We saw 43 patients (age range 39-94 y) between June 1999 and September 2004. One patient was on a ventilator at the initial visit, and was therefore excluded from the study. Discussion about the patients' end-of-life care preferences were initiated at the first pulmonary visit with 40 patients. With 2 patients, end-of-life decisions were discussed at the second office visit. Twenty-five patients chose do-not-resuscitate and do-not-intubate (DNR/DNI) orders after the initial end-of-life discussion with the pulmonologist. Five other patients chose DNR/DNI orders during subsequent clinic visits. Four patients were still undecided at their last clinic visit. Six patients were lost to follow-up before a decision was made. Two patients requested full ventilatory support. Both the forced vital capacity and the level of bulbar dysfunction were not statistically different between the patients who chose DNR/DNI and the patients who were either undecided or requested full ventilatory support.


Decisions about end-of-life care are often delayed in patients with ALS. These patients' final decisions seem to be independent of their level of respiratory insufficiency or bulbar function, and most related to the physician addressing end-of-life care decisions in a timely manner.

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