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Crit Care Clin. 2009 Jan;25(1):221-37, x. doi: 10.1016/j.ccc.2008.10.002.

A history of ethics and law in the intensive care unit.

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Department of Medicine, University of California, 505 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Because they provide potential benefit at great personal and public cost, the intensive care unit (ICU) and the interventions rendered therein have become symbols of both the promise and the limitations of medical technology. At the same time, the ICU has served as an arena in which many of the ethical and legal dilemmas created by that technology have been defined and debated. This article outlines major events in the history of ethics and law in the ICU, covering the evolution of ICUs, ethical principles, informed consent and the law, medical decision-making, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining therapy, legal cases involving life support, advance directives, prognostication, and futility and the allocation of medical resources. Advancement of the ethical principle of respect for patient autonomy in ICUs increasingly is in conflict with physicians' concern about their own prerogatives and with the just distribution of medical resources.

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