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A Journal on Anesthesiology, Resuscitation, Analgesia and Intensive Care
Minerva Anestesiologica 2011 September;77(9):911-20
End of life care in Italian intensive care units: where are we now?
Gristina G. R. 1, 2, De Gaudio R. 3, Mazzon D. 2, 4, Curtis J. R. 5 ✉
1 Trauma Center and Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department, S. Camillo-C. Forlanini Hospitals, Rome, Italy;
2 S.I.A.A.R.T.I. Study Group on Bioethics;
3 Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care, Department of Critical Care, University of Florence, Florence, Italy;
4 Anesthesia Division and Intensive Care Unit, S. Martino Hospital, Belluno, Italy;
5 Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
Most patients in the ICU are unable to make decisions for themselves at the end of life (EOL), and the responsibility for these decisions falls to the medical staff and patients’ relatives. Therefore, clinicians must frequently communicate with patients’ relatives to understand the patients’ values and preferences as they perform medical decision making. The family’s role in this process varies: the entire burden of decision making could rest with the family, or family members could be informed of the decisions without admission into the decision-making process. In contrast to these two extremes, clinicians and family members may also enter into shared decision making: an exchange of views and opinions between clinicians and the patient’s family to enable the two parties to reach decisions together. In this latter scenario, the effectiveness of the discussions that take place between clinicians and family members becomes a crucial marker of high-quality intensive care. In this review, we provide an overview of the current literature concerning the state of EOL care in European and Italian ICUs and then summarize several European and American recommendations for improving EOL care in the ICU. Finally, we examine the opportunity to use shared decision making to improve EOL care in the ICU through interdisciplinary communication, open and realistic discussion of prognosis with families, and an approach respecting different cultural perspectives.