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Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014 Sep 5;9(9):1652-6. doi: 10.2215/CJN.01630214. Epub 2014 May 8.

The ethics of offering dialysis for AKI to the older patient: time to re-evaluate?

Author information

1
Section of Nephrology, West Virginia University School of Medicine, Morgantown, West Virginia; and.
2
Section of Nephrology, West Virginia University School of Medicine, Morgantown, West Virginia; and Center for Health Ethics and Law, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia amoss@hsc.wvu.edu.

Abstract

Older patients are more susceptible to AKI. In the elderly, AKI has been associated with increased morbidity and mortality, and it is a significant risk factor for CKD and dialysis-dependent ESRD. There are now accumulating data that the start of dialysis for some older patients is associated with poor outcomes, such as high treatment intensity, suffering, and limited life prolongation, which occur at the expense of dignity and quality of life. The biomedicalization of aging is a relatively recent field of ethical inquiry with two directly relevant features to decisions about starting dialysis for older patients with AKI: (1) the routinization of geriatric clinical interventions, such as dialysis, which results in the overshadowing of patient choice, and (2) the transformation of the technological imperative into the moral imperative. A major consequence of the biomedicalization of aging is that societal expectations about standard medical care have resulted in the relatively unquestioned provision of dialysis for AKI to older patients. This paper calls for nephrologists to re-examine the data and their attitudes to offering dialysis to older patients with AKI, especially those patients with underlying CKD and significant comorbidities. Shared decision-making and the reinforcement of the right of the patient to make a choice need to slow down the otherwise ineluctable routinization of starting old and very sick patients on dialysis. In the process of shared decision-making, nephrologists should not automatically recommend dialysis for older patients; in those patients who can be predicted to do poorly, recommending against dialysis upholds the Hippocratic maxim to be of benefit and do no harm. This paper challenges the automatic transformation of the technological imperative into the moral imperative for older patients with AKI and points to the need for a re-evaluation of dialysis ethics in this population.

KEYWORDS:

ESRD; acute renal failure; dialysis; ethics; older patients

PMID:
24812422
PMCID:
PMC4152806
DOI:
10.2215/CJN.01630214
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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