Consent for withholding life-sustaining treatment in cancer patients: a retrospective comparative analysis before and after the enforcement of the Life Extension Medical Decision law

Consent for withholding life-sustaining treatment in cancer patients: a retrospective comparative analysis before and after the enforcement of the Life Extension Medical Decision law
Yu Jin Chung, Incheol Park, Junho Cho, Jin Ho Beom, Ji Eun Lee
BMC Medical Ethics, 17 June 2021; 22(72)
Open Access
Abstract
Background
The Life Extension Medical Decision law enacted on February 4, 2018 in South Korea was the first to consider the suspension of futile life-sustaining treatment, and its enactment caused a big controversy in Korean society. However, no study has evaluated whether the actual implementation of life-sustaining treatment has decreased after the enforcement of this law. This study aimed to compare the provision of patient consent before and after the enforcement of this law among cancer patients who visited a tertiary university hospital’s emergency room to understand the effects of this law on the clinical care of cancer patients.
Methods
This retrospective single cohort study included advanced cancer patients aged over 19 years who visited the emergency room of a tertiary university hospital. The two study periods were as follows: from February 2017 to January 2018 (before) and from May 2018 to April 2019 (after). The primary outcome was the length of hospital stay. The consent rates to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), intubation, continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT), and intensive care unit (ICU) admission were the secondary outcomes.
Results
The length of hospital stay decreased after the law was enforced from 4 to 2 days (p = 0.001). The rates of direct transfers to secondary hospitals and nursing hospitals increased from 8.2 to 21.2% (p = 0.001) and from 1.0 to 9.7%, respectively (p < 0.001). The consent rate for admission to the ICU decreased from 6.7 to 2.3% (p = 0.032). For CPR and CRRT, the consent rates decreased from 1.0 to 0.0% and from 13.9 to 8.8%, respectively, but the differences were not significant (p = 0.226 and p = 0.109, respectively).
Conclusion
After the enforcement of the Life Extension Medical Decision law, the length of stay in the tertiary university hospital decreased in patients who established their life-sustaining treatment plans in the emergency room. Moreover, the rate of consent for ICU admission decreased.

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