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J Gen Intern Med. 1995 Sep;10(9):491-4.

Medical specialists prefer to withdraw familiar technologies when discontinuing life support.

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Section of General Internal Medicine, University of Chicago, IL, USA.



To assess how members of different specialties vary in their decisions about which form of life support to withdraw. The hypothesis was that each specialty would be more comfortable withdrawing its "own" form of life support relative to other forms and other specialties.


Mail survey.


24 medical centers.


225 specialists in six specialties and 225 comparison physicians randomly matched according to percentage of time devoted to clinical practice.


The six specialties were linked with six life-sustaining technologies related to their special expertise: 1) pulmonologists with mechanical ventilation, 2) nephrologists with hemodialysis, 3) gastroenterologists with tube feedings, 4) hematologists with blood products, 5) cardiologists with intravenous vasopressors, and 6) infectious disease specialists with antibiotics. The subjects ranked different forms of life support in the order in which they would prefer to withdraw them. They also expressed their preferences in response to hypothetical clinical vignettes.


In five of the six specialties, the specialists had a relative preference for withdrawing their "own" form of life support, compared with the preferences of the comparison physicians. Overall, the physicians tended to prefer withdrawing a form of life support closely linked with their own specialty.


Just as some specialist physicians tend to reach for different technologies first in treating patients, they also tend to reach for different technologies first when ceasing treatment. Specialists' preferences for different ways to withdraw life support not only may reflect a special understanding of the limits of certain technologies, but also may reveal how ingrained are physicians' patterns of practice.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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