Challenges in end-of-life care in the ICU. Statement of the 5th International Consensus Conference in Critical Care: Brussels, Belgium, April 2003

Intensive Care Med. 2004 May;30(5):770-84. doi: 10.1007/s00134-004-2241-5. Epub 2004 Apr 20.


The jurors identified numerous problems with end of life in the ICU including variability in practice, inadequate predictive models for death, elusive knowledge of patient preferences, poor communication between staff and surrogates, insufficient or absent training of health-care providers, the use of imprecise and insensitive terminology, and incomplete documentation in the medical records. The jury strongly recommends that research be conducted to improve end-of-life care. The jury advocates a "shared" approach to end-of-life decision-making involving the caregiver team and patient surrogates. Respect for patient autonomy and the intention to honour decisions to decline unwanted treatments should be conveyed to the family. The process is one of negotiation, and the outcome will be determined by the personalities and beliefs of the participants. Ultimately, it is the attending physician's responsibility, as leader of the health-care team, to decide on the reasonableness of the planned action. In the event of conflict, the ICU team may agree to continue support for a predetermined time. Most conflicts can be resolved. If the conflict persists, however, an ethics consultation may be helpful. Nurses must be involved in the process. The patient must be assured of a pain-free death. The jury of the Consensus Conference subscribes to the moral and legal principles that prohibit administering treatments specifically designed to hasten death. The patient must be given sufficient analgesia to alleviate pain and distress; if such analgesia hastens death, this "double effect" should not detract from the primary aim to ensure comfort.

Publication types

  • Consensus Development Conference
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Terminal Care* / ethics
  • Terminal Care* / psychology
  • Terminal Care* / standards
  • United States