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Organ Support After Death by Neurologic Criteria in Pediatric Patients

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Objectives:

We sought to 1) evaluate how pediatricians approach situations in which families request continuation of organ support after declaration of death by neurologic criteria and 2) explore potential interventions to make these situations less challenging.

Design:

A survey on management and personal experience with death by neurologic criteria was distributed electronically to pediatric intensivists and neurologists. We compared responses from individuals who practice in states with accommodation exceptions (accommodation states where religious or moral beliefs must be taken into consideration when declaring death: California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York) to those from non-accommodation states.

Setting:

United States.

Subjects:

The survey was opened by 254 recipients, with 186 meeting inclusion criteria and providing data about the region in which they practice; of these, 26% were from accommodation states.

Interventions:

None.

Measurements and Main Results:

More than half of physicians (61% from both accommodation states and non-accommodation states) reported they cared for a pediatric patient whose family requested continuation of organ support after declaration of death by neurologic criteria (outside of organ donation; range, 1–17 times). Over half of physicians (53%) reported they would not feel comfortable handling a situation in which a pediatric patient’s family requested care be continued after declaration of death by neurologic criteria. Nearly every physician (98%) endorsed that something needs to be done to make situations involving families who object to discontinuation of organ support after declaration of death by neurologic criteria easier to handle. Respondents felt that public education, physician education, and uniform state laws about these situations are warranted.

Conclusions:

It is relatively common for pediatricians who care for critically ill patients to encounter families who object to discontinuation of organ support after death by neurologic criteria. Management of these situations is challenging, and guidance for medical professionals and the public is needed.
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Keywords: brain death; family; guidelines; medical ethics; pediatric intensive care units

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2017

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