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J Neurol Sci. 1997 Oct;152 Suppl 1:S93-6.

End of life decisions in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a cross-cultural perspective.

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University of Chicago and MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, IL 60637-1470, USA.


In an era where life-sustaining technology offers physicians unprecedented powers to prolong survival in terminal illness, the question of how end of life decisions are made has become a major subject of study and debate. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease in which physical ability declines while mental capacity most often remains intact. Since most patients with ALS die of respiratory failure, a distinguishing feature of this disease is whether a patient is offered and accepts a chance to go on long-term mechanical ventilation. This unusual feature makes ALS a compelling model for studying end of life decisions in different countries. This paper reviews the literature and presents preliminary data on how end of life decisions in ALS are made in the US, Great Britain, and Japan. We address this issue by examining how cultural differences in truth-telling and informed consent, societal differences in attitudes toward the use of artificial life support, and legal differences in the role and status of advance directives in each country influenced decisions in the following three groups of patients: (1) the mentally competent; (2) mentally incompetent patients who previously completed advance directives when competent; and (3) mentally incompetent patients who have not provided advance guidance about their wishes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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