Palliative care/hospice and the withdrawal of dialysis

J Palliat Med. Spring 2000;3(1):57-67. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2000.3.57.

Abstract

While the majority of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients on dialysis lead satisfying lives, an increasing number are choosing to withdraw from dialysis before death. A partnership between nephrology and palliative care/hospice healthcare teams would seem likely in the care of ESRD patients, yet this is often not the case. In anticipation of increasing participation by palliative care/hospice teams in the care of such patients, this article reviews the decision-making process of withdrawal and the medical care of the patient who withdraws. While withdrawal can be an acceptable choice from a medical, legal, psychiatric, and ethical point of view, it can nonetheless be complex. Profound decisions are often characterized by the need for time to process, and by ambivalence among patient, family and healthcare providers. In addition to caring for the patient and family, the palliative care/hospice team will want to consider the needs of the referring nephrology team as well. A "uremic death" is characterized as painless; however, other symptoms related to the accumulation of toxins and fluid can be anticipated and managed. Pharmacological intervention of uremic symptoms, as well as the pain attendant to other, nonrenal comorbid disease is accomplished with awareness of the impact of renal failure on the excretion of various drugs and their metabolites.