Background: The implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is highly effective in the therapy of malign heart rhythm abnormalities. However, the ethical dilemma of harming a dying patient has received little attention. We studied the current state of knowledge and behavior of physicians and the subjective needs of ICD patients with respect to end-of-life issues.
Methods: A literature search of articles published between 8/2010 and 3/2011 in PubMed resulted in the identification of 32 reports, of which 25 met selection criteria.
Results: Practically no clinical institution (96% in Europe) offers routine counseling of ICD patients on end-of-life issues. In only about 25% of cases do doctors initiate a discussion on this issue with the ICD patient, of which the majority takes place during the final hours of the patient's life. Knowledge of legal aspects of ICD deactivation is insufficient in about 50% of physicians. Many physicians underestimate the impact of ICD shocks and often have unrealistic expectations about the patient's knowledge on technical aspects of the ICD device. The majority of patients are reluctant to address this topic and prefer to rely on the decision of their attending physician.
Conclusion: Despite insufficient empirical data, findings point to a low willingness of ICD patients to confront the end-of-life issue and prefer decisions to be made by their physician. Substantial knowledge gaps of physicians may cause barriers in considering the option of deactivating the ICD.