Canadian nurses' and respiratory therapists' perspectives on withdrawal of life support in the intensive care unit

J Crit Care. 2005 Mar;20(1):59-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrc.2004.10.006.


Purpose: To describe perspectives of nurses (RNs) and respiratory therapists (RTs) related to end-of-life care for critically ill patients.

Methods: For patients who had life support withdrawn in 4 Canadian university-affiliated ICUs, RNs and RTs reported their comfort level with decision making and process for 14 aspects of end-of-life care.

Results: Ninety-eight patients had life support withdrawn. Responses were received from 96 (98.0%) bedside RNs and 73 (74.5%) RTs. Most RNs (85/94, 90.4%) and RTs (50/73, 68.5%) were very comfortable with decisions to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation or to withdraw life support (83/94, 88.3% of RNs and 56/73, 76.7% of RTs). Most RNs (range 71.3%-80.65%) and RTs (60.0%-70.8%) were very comfortable with ventilation/oxygen withdrawal and sedation. Among paired responses for 72 (73.5%) of 98 patients, RTs rated less favorably than RNs ( P < .05): the quality of the physician explanation of the life support withdrawal process, the availability of the physician, the peacefulness of the dying process, and the amount of privacy for families. Suggested improvements included earlier and more inclusive discussions, clearer plans, and better preparation of families and the ICU team for patients' deaths.

Conclusions: Most RNs and RTs were comfortable with decision making and the process of life support withdrawal, but they suggested several ways to improve end-of-life care.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Death
  • Canada
  • Continuity of Patient Care
  • Decision Making
  • Euthanasia, Passive
  • Health Facility Environment
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Life Support Care*
  • Nurses*
  • Physicians*
  • Respiratory Therapy
  • Terminal Care
  • Withholding Treatment*