Limiting life-sustaining treatment for very old ICU patients: cultural challenges and diverse practices Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Abstract Background Decisions about life-sustaining therapy (LST) in the intensive care unit (ICU) depend on predictions of survival as well as the expected functional capacity and self-perceived quality of life after discharge, especially in very old patients. However, prognostication for individual patients in this cohort is hampered by substantial uncertainty which can lead to a large variability of opinions and, eventually, decisions about LST. Moreover, decision-making processes are often embedded in a framework of ethical and legal recommendations which may vary between countries resulting in divergent management strategies. Methods Based on a vignette scenario of a multi-morbid 87-year-old patient, this article illustrates the spectrum of opinions about LST among intensivsts with a special interest in very old patients, from ten countries/regions, representing diverse cultures and healthcare systems. Results This survey of expert opinions and national recommendations demonstrates shared principles in the management of very old ICU patients. Some guidelines also acknowledge cultural differences between population groups. Although consensus with families should be sought, shared decision-making is not formally required or practised in all countries. Conclusions This article shows similarities and differences in the decision-making for LST in very old ICU patients and recommends strategies to deal with prognostic uncertainty. Conflicts should be anticipated in situations where stakeholders have different cultural beliefs. There is a need for more collaborative research and training in this field.


  • Beil, Michael
  • van Heerden, Peter Vernon
  • Joynt, Gavin M
  • Lapinsky, Stephen
  • Flaatten, Hans
  • Guidet, Bertrand
  • de Lange, Dylan
  • Leaver, Susannah
  • Jung, Christian
  • Forte, Daniel Neves
  • Bin, Du
  • Elhadi, Muhammed
  • Szczeklik, Wojciech
  • Sviri, Sigal

publication date

  • October 27, 2023