Preventing life-sustaining treatment by default

Ann Fam Med. 2011 May-Jun;9(3):250-6. doi: 10.1370/afm.1227.


Many physicians will at some point care for patients who will receive life-sustaining treatment by default, because there are no instructions available from the patient as to what kind of care is preferred, and because surrogates are likely to ask for everything to be done when they do not know a patient's preferences. We use the methods of ethics informed by qualitative focus group research to identify 5 pathways to life-sustaining treatment by default originating with the patient's preferred decision-making style: deciding for oneself or letting others decide. We emphasize preventing the ethically unwelcome outcome of life-sustaining treatment by default by increasing the frequency with which patients make clear decisions or clearly express their values and goals that they then communicate to physicians or surrogates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives / ethics*
  • Euthanasia, Passive / ethics*
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care / ethics*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Terminal Care / ethics*