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Ethics in the intensive care unit: Responding to requests for potentially inappropriate therapies in adults

Douglas B White, MD, MAS
Section Editors
Polly E Parsons, MD
Robert M Arnold, MD
Deputy Editor
Geraldine Finlay, MD


Clinicians are sometimes faced with requests to provide treatments for patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) that they judge to be ill-advised. These requests often arise due to poor communication regarding prognosis and treatment goals between the treating team and the patient and/or his or her surrogates. Sometimes, such requests arise because of value disagreements between the clinicians, the patient, and/or his or her surrogates about what the goals of care should be in light of a serious medical situation.

Issues related to requests for potentially inappropriate treatments and strictly futile interventions are reviewed here. Throughout the discussion, the term "surrogates" will include the person named by the patient to make health care decisions plus any person involved in making decisions for an incapacitated patient. Other issues related to issues that arise in the ICU, palliative care, and end of life care are discussed separately.

(See "Communication in the ICU: Holding a family meeting".)

(See "Palliative care: Issues in the intensive care unit in adults".)

(See "Ethics in the intensive care unit: Informed consent".)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Aug 25, 2016.
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