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Emergent use of mechanical circulatory support devices: ethical dilemmas

Shah, Keyur B.a; Levenson, James L.b; Mehra, Mandeep R.c

Current Opinion in Cardiology: May 2014 - Volume 29 - Issue 3 - p 281–284
doi: 10.1097/HCO.0000000000000058
CARDIAC FAILURE: Edited by Stavros G. Drakos and Nir Uriel

Purpose of review Mechanical Circulatory Support (MCS) devices are ‘life-sustaining devices’ placed as a bridge to decision, either recovery, transplantation or a lifetime tether with the device. Cardiogenic shock may compromise patient autonomy, or the right for an individual patient to determine his own care. This review addresses an ethical dilemma in the context of complex clinical medical decision-making, during marked uncertainty for outcomes.

Recent findings The language in an advanced directive is often imprecise and may not provide clear guidance, especially for emergent decisions related to MCS devices. Despite improving outcomes, application of MCS in critical illness is associated with excessive morbidity and quality of life-limiting adverse outcomes. Several cohort experiences now exist that define deactivation of Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs) in futility as now deemed as morally and ethically appropriate. In contradistinction to euthanasia, deactivation of an LVAD does not introduce new intervention or an additional surgical injury, thereby allowing the patient to die from their original disorder.

Summary Clinicians must maintain the principle of patient autonomy, ensure the viability of an appropriate informed consent process and facilitate surrogate judgment. An interdisciplinary team-based approach is required, and, in some cases, assisted by formal ethics consultations in vexing situations.

aDivision of Cardiology, Virginia Commonwealth University

bDepartment of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia

cBrigham and Women's Hospital Heart and Vascular Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Correspondence to Mandeep R. Mehra, MD, Medical Director, BWH Heart and Vascular Center and Executive Director Center for Advanced Heart Disease, Brigham and Women's Hospital, 75 Francis Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA. Tel: +1 617 732 8534; fax: +1 617 264 5265; e-mail: mmehra.harvard@gmail.com

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins