Withdrawal of life support: how the family feels, and why

J Palliat Care. 2000 Oct;16 Suppl:S40-4.


The objectives of this study were to develop an instrument to assess the satisfaction of family members with withdrawal of life support (WLS), and to determine which factors are associated with greater levels of satisfaction. To do this, we developed a self-administered questionnaire that was sent to the next-of-kin of intensive care unit (ICU) patients dying following WLS. Over a six-month period, 69 patients died following WLS in the ICU. Three letters were returned "address unknown", 33 did not respond, and 33 responded, of whom 29 agreed to participate (29/66 = 44% of those contacted). Of these, 24 (83%) strongly agreed with the patient's death being compassionate and dignified, one moderately agreed, one mildly agreed, one was neutral and two strongly disagreed. Items associated with greater satisfaction included: the process of WLS being well explained, WLS proceeding as expected, patient appearing comfortable, family/friends prepared for the decision, appropriate person initiating discussion, adequate privacy during WLS, chance to voice concerns. The study suggests factors that are important to consider in ensuring family comfort with the process of withdrawing life support.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Consumer Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Euthanasia, Passive
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care*
  • Male
  • Ontario
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Withholding Treatment*