Withholding Versus Withdrawing Life-Sustaining Treatment

Patient Factors and Documentation Associated with Dialysis Decisions

Published in: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, v. 48, no. 5, suppl., May 2000, p. S75-S83

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2000

by Neil S. Wenger, Joanne Lynn, Robert K. Oye, Honghu H. Liu, Joan M. Teno, Russell S. Phillips, Norman A. Desbiens, Ashwini Sehgal, Peter Kussin, Harry Taub, Frank E. Harrell, William Knaus

OBJECTIVE: The authors evaluated prospectively the use of acute hemodialysis among hospitalized patients to identify demographic and clinical predictors of and chart documentation concerning dialysis withheld and withdrawn. DESIGN: Prospective cohort study. SETTING: Five teaching hospitals. PATIENTS: Five hundred sixty-five seriously ill hospitalized patients who had not previously undergone dialysis who developed renal failure. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Patient demographics, clinical characteristics, preferences, and prognostic estimates associated with having dialysis withheld rather than initiated and withdrawn rather than continued. Differences in chart documentation concerning decision-making for dialysis withheld, withdrawn, and continued. RESULTS: Older patient age, cancer diagnosis, and male gender were associated with dialysis withheld rather than withdrawn. Age and gender differences persisted after adjustment for patients' aggressiveness of care preference. Worse 2-month prognosis was associated with both withholding and withdrawing dialysis. Chart documentation of decision-making was lacking more often for patients with dialysis withheld than for dialysis withdrawn. CONCLUSIONS: Measuring the equity of life-sustaining treatment use will require evaluation of care withheld, not just care withdrawn. Older patients and men, after accounting for prognosis and function, are more likely to have dialysis withheld than withdrawn after a trial. Further exploration is needed into this disparity and the inadequate chart documentation for patients with dialysis withheld.

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