Patient characteristics associated with end-of-life decision making in critically ill surgical patients

J Am Coll Surg. 2011 Dec;213(6):766-70. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2011.09.003.


Background: Palliative care is an important and necessary humanistic facet of ICU care. Wide variations exist in selection and implementation of palliative care decisions. Understanding patient factors associated with these decisions is crucial.

Study design: Consecutive deaths (n = 151 patients) in a tertiary care surgical ICU during a 2-year period were reviewed. All data had been entered into the APACHE IV database. Patients were divided into groups: Withhold (WH), which included patients who had potentially lifesaving therapies withheld or withdrawn, and Full Care (FC), which included patients who had full resuscitative efforts before death. Patient factors including demographics, severity of illness, admission source, and history were compared between groups.

Results: Of 151 patients, 111 (74%) had potentially lifesaving therapy withheld or withdrawn (WH group). Forty patients (26%) had full treatment, including CPR, until time of death (FC group). Compared with WH, FC patients had a higher degree of illness at ICU admission (APACHE IV score 103.4 ± 36.6 vs 90.6 ± 29.3; p < 0.02) and were less likely to be male (35% vs 62%; p < 0.005). There were no differences between groups with regard to age, requirement for intubation on admission, medical history, admission source (emergency room vs operating room vs recovery room) or the number of patients admitted status post emergent vs elective surgery or admitted for nonsurgical diagnoses. In a multivariable regression model, male sex (odds ratio = 3.22; 95% CI, 1.45-7.19) and severity of illness (odds ratio = 0.98; 95% CI, 0.97-0.99) retained independent associations with decisions to limit care.

Conclusions: Higher severity of illness and history play no role in the decision to limit care. Sex plays a strong and independent role. Factors influencing end-of-life care require additional study.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Critical Care*
  • Critical Illness / epidemiology*
  • Critical Illness / psychology
  • Critical Illness / therapy
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Terminal Care*
  • Withholding Treatment*