To treat or not to treat: Withholding treatment in the ICU

G. Godfrey, A. Hilton, R. Bellomo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Decisions to limit life-sustaining therapy (DLLST) in the ICU are used to uphold patients' autonomy, protect them from non-beneficial treatment and fairly distribute resources. The institution of these decisions is complex, with a variety of qualitative and quantitative data published. This review aims to summarize the main issues and review the contemporary research findings on this subject. RECENT FINDINGS: DLLST are used in a variety of clinical and non-clinical situations, before and after ICU admission, and are not always part of end-of-life management. There are many dilemmas and barriers that beset their institution. Many ICU physicians feel inadequately trained to carry them out and they are frequently a source of conflict. A variety of strategies have been examined to improve their institution, including advanced directives, intensive communication strategies and family information leaflets, many of which have improved patient and family-centred outcomes. SUMMARY: There are a number of uncertainties that beset the institution of DLLST in the ICU; however, a variety of research has improved our ability to understand and implement them. This review frames some of the dilemmas and discusses some of the procedural strategies that have been used to improve outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)624-629
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Opinion in Critical Care
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013


  • communication
  • critically ill
  • end-of-life decisions
  • family
  • withholding and withdrawing life support

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