News | December 18, 2006

Flip Side of ICDS: Lifesavers Make Dying Harder

The Washington Post reports that while people with implanted cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) or pacemakers do reap life-saving benefits from shocks to their hearts, these individuals also face unwanted and disturbing jolts when other injury or terminal illness brings them to life’s end. The article by Rob Stein says that the implants can make the act of dying harder, forcing terminally ill patients and families to make wrenching decisions about turning them off.

Nursing staff at ICU units, nursing homes and hospices around the country are encountering scenarios in which the devices subject dying patients to painful jolts, prolonging suffering and traumatizing loved ones as the devices fire fruitlessly. Holding a large magnet next to the patient’s chest is one method of deactivating the device — some nurses have begun carrying a magnet in their pocket as a precaution.

“It can be just awful,” said Porter Storey of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. “The thing will shock them and shock them and shock them. Patients describe it as like being kicked in the chest by a horse. Their muscles convulse. If you are holding their hand you may even feel the electricity. It’s quite jarring.”

The problem, writes Stein, is an example of the consequences of medical technologies proliferating before the ethical, psychological and logistic issues they raise have been resolved.

“When new technologies are introduced, they often come with new concerns and dilemmas,” said Paul S. Mueller, a doctor and ethicist at the Mayo Clinic who has written about the ethics of deactivating the devices. “We often forget about that.”

More than 500,000 Americans — including Vice President Dick Cheney — have ICDs, and the number is rising as at least 150,000 are implanted annually. An additional 4 million patients are medically eligible for an ICD.

Related Content

Biotronik Launches DX Technology for U.S. Heart Failure Patients
News | Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy Devices (CRT)| July 21, 2017
Biotronik announced U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and availability of the Intica DX and Intica...
Predictive Models May Help Determine Which Patients Benefit From ICDs
News | Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)| July 06, 2017
Two predictive models may help cardiologists decide which patients would most benefit from an implantable cardioverter...
Medtronic Reactive ATP Therapy Slows Progression of Atrial Fibrillation in Real-World Population
News | Atrial Fibrillation| July 03, 2017
Medtronic recently announced that its Reactive ATP therapy slows the progression of atrial fibrillation (AF) in...
Sponsored Content | Videos | Cardiovascular Ultrasound| June 29, 2017
Leyla Elif Sade, M.D., MESC, professor of cardiology at Başkent University, Ankara, Turkey, discusses use of echo for
Biosense webster multielectrode balloon RF ablation catheter

The Biosense Webster multi-electrode balloon RF ablation catheter. Each electrode can have varied power settings to avoid damage to underlying tissues like the esophagus. 

Feature | EP Lab| June 22, 2017 | Dave Fornell
Electrophysiology (EP) technology has been advancing rapidly the past few years with new ablation tools to improve...
Pacemakers and Other Cardiac Devices Can Help Solve Forensic Cases
News | Pacemakers| June 20, 2017
Pacemakers and other cardiac devices can help solve forensic cases, according to a study presented at the European...
Sponsored Content | Videos | Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)| June 01, 2017
Lucas Boersma, M.D., Ph.D., FESC, St.
Sponsored Content | Videos | Leads Implantable Devices| May 25, 2017
Bruce Wilkoff, M.D., director of cardiac pacing and tachyarrhythmia devices at Cleveland Clinic, discusses advancemen
Overlay Init