Ethical considerations at the end of life in the intensive care unit

Crit Care Med. 2007 Feb;35(2 Suppl):S85-94. doi: 10.1097/01.CCM.0000252909.52316.27.


Intensive care units (ICUs) confront the healthcare system with end-of-life situations and ethical dilemmas surrounding death. It is necessary for all providers who treat dying patients to have a working knowledge of the philosophical principles that are fundamental to biomedical ethics. Those principles, however, are insufficient for compassionate care. To function well in the intensive care unit, one also must appreciate the behaviors that surround mortality. Human conduct is not predicated solely on rules; complex, unpredictable interactions are the norm. Palliative care, moving forward as a discipline, will become the perfect complement to intensive medical care, rather than being seen as an embodiment of its failures. We need to be as aggressive about respecting patient dignity as we are about using the technology that is central to health care. This article will outline end-of-life ethical principles, explore the sociology that influences human interactions in intensive care units, and show how palliative care should guide behaviors to improve how we deal with death.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Clinical*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / ethics*
  • Palliative Care / ethics
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Principle-Based Ethics
  • Sociology, Medical / ethics
  • Terminal Care / ethics*