In their own time: the family experience during the process of withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy

J Palliat Med. 2008 Oct;11(8):1115-21. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2008.0015.


Withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy (LST) occurs commonly in critical care units, yet little is known about the family experience with this process. The purpose of this study was to understand the lived experience of families participating in the process of withdrawal of LST from a family member with an unexpected, life-threatening illness or injury. A hermeneutic phenomenological approach was used as nineteen families were interviewed and observed. Within and across family analyses were conducted. Methodological rigor was established and redundancy was achieved. The categories that evolved from the data included: this happens to other families, time to understand the severity of the illness or injury, time to see if health would be restored, riding a roller coaster, family readiness: willingness to consider withdrawal of LST as a possible option, one step at a time, family readiness: time to make a decision, the family will go on, and waiting for a miracle. The family experience participating in the process of withdrawal of LST happened for families "in their own time." The results of this study have important implications for clinical practice and future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Decision Making
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Support Care / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • Trust / psychology
  • Withholding Treatment*
  • Young Adult