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, et al.

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patients to identify demographic and clinical predictors of and chart documentation concerning dialysis withheld and withdrawn.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preferences, and prognostic estimates associated with having dialysis withheld rather than initiated and withdrawn rather than continued. Differences in chart documentation concerning decision-making for dialysis withheld, withdrawn, and continued. RESULTS: Older patient age, cancer diagnosis, and male gender were associated with dialysis withheld rather than withdrawn.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 Chart documentation of decision-making was lacking more often for patients with dialysis withheld than for dialysis withdrawn.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Measuring the equity of life-sustaining treatment use will require evaluation of care withheld, not just care withdrawn. Older patients and men, after accounting for prognosis and function, are more likely to have dialysis withheld than withdrawn after a trial.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.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/research-integrity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.