Stopping long-term dialysis. An empirical study of withdrawal of life-supporting treatment

N Engl J Med. 1986 Jan 2;314(1):14-20. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198601023140103.


Dialysis was discontinued in 155 (9 percent) of 1766 patients being treated for end-stage renal disease, accounting for 22 percent of all deaths. Treatment was withdrawn more frequently in older than in younger non-diabetic patients, and more often in young diabetic patients than in young nondiabetic patients. Withdrawal was twice as common in nondiabetic patients with other degenerative disorders (P less than 0.005); in patients receiving intermittent peritoneal dialysis (P less than 0.025); and in patients living in nursing homes (P less than 0.025). Half the patients were competent when the decision to withdraw was made, and 39 percent of this group had no new preceding medical complications. Among incompetent patients, the physician initiated the decision for withdrawal in 73 percent, and the patient's family in 27 percent; all patients had recent medical complications. In the early 1970s the physician initiated the decision in 66 percent of all patients; in the early 1980s this figure had decreased to 30 percent (P less than 0.0005). We conclude that stopping treatment is a common mode of death in patients receiving long-term dialysis, particularly in those who are old and those who have complicating degenerative diseases. Because of the increasing age of patients on dialysis, withdrawal of treatment will probably become more common in the future.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Brain Diseases / complications
  • Coma / complications
  • Decision Making
  • Dementia / complications
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Euthanasia*
  • Euthanasia, Passive*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Hemodialysis Units, Hospital / standards
  • Hemodialysis, Home
  • Hospices
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / complications
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy
  • Life Support Care / standards*
  • Long-Term Care
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minnesota
  • Nursing Homes
  • Peritoneal Dialysis
  • Peritoneal Dialysis, Continuous Ambulatory
  • Renal Dialysis*