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

Crit Care Med. 2004 Aug;32(8):1781-4. doi: 10.1097/01.ccm.0000126895.66850.14.


Objective: The purpose of the conference was to provide clinical practice guidance in end-of-life care in the ICU via answers to previously identified questions relating to variability in practice, inadequate predictive models for death, elusive knowledge of patient preferences, poor communication between staff and surrogates, insufficient or absent training of healthcare providers, the use of imprecise and insensitive terminology and incomplete documentation in the medical record.

Participants: Presenters and jury were selected by the sponsoring organizations (American Thoracic Society, European Respiratory Society, European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, Society of Critical Care Medicine, Société de Réanimation de Langue Française). Presenters were experts on the question they addressed. Jury members were general intensivists without special expertise in the areas considered. Experts presented in an open session to jurors and other healthcare professionals.

Evidence: Experts prepared review papers on their specific topics in advance of the conference for the jury's reference in developing the consensus statement.

Consensus process: Jurors heard experts' presentations over 2 days and asked questions of the experts during the open sessions. Jury deliberation with access to the review papers occurred for 2 days following the conference. A writing committee drafted the consensus statement for review by the entire jury. The 5 sponsoring organizations reviewed the document and suggested revisions to be incorporated into the final statement.

Conclusions: Strong recommendations for research to improve end-of-life care were made. 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 honor 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 team, to decide on the reasonableness of the planned action. If a conflict cannot be resolved, an ethics consultation may be helpful. The patient must be assured of a pain-free death. The jury 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
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Belgium
  • Critical Care / organization & administration
  • Critical Care / standards*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Euthanasia, Passive
  • Health Planning Guidelines*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration
  • Intensive Care Units / standards*
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Quality of Health Care / standards
  • Terminal Care / organization & administration
  • Terminal Care / standards*