Objective: To describe a series of terminally ill patients who requested (or whose surrogates requested) withdrawal of pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) support and the ethical issues pertaining to these requests. Patients and Methods: We performed a retrospective review of the medical records of patients seen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn, between January 1996 and June 2002 and identified 6 terminally ill patients who requested (or whose family members requested) withdrawal of pacemaker or ICD support. Potential interventions were an ethics consultation and subsequent withdrawal of pacemaker or ICD support. The study's main outcome measures were death and the context in which it occurred. Results: The mean age of the 6 patients (3 men, 3 women) was 75.5 years. Five had pacemakers, and 1 had an ICD. Five patients had advance directives that indicated a desire to withdraw medical interventions if death was inevitable. Two patients and 4 surrogates requested withdrawal of pacemaker or ICD support. One patient died without withdrawal of support despite an ethics consultation that endorsed its permissibility. Another died while an ethics consultation was in progress. The request to withdraw support was granted in 4 patients, all of whom died within 5 days of withdrawal of support. Conclusions: Granting terminally ill patients' requests to withdraw unwanted medical support is legal and ethical. Death after withdrawal of support is attributable to the patient's underlying pathology and is not the same as physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. Clinician familiarity with these concepts may lead to more expeditious withdrawal of unwanted medical support from terminally ill patients.
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