To investigate whether observable differences exist between patterns of withdrawal of life-sustaining measures (WLSM) for patients eligible for donation after circulatory death (DCD) in whom donation was attempted compared with those patients in whom no donation attempts were made.
Adult intensive care units from 20 centres in Canada, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.
Secondary analysis of quantitative data collected as part of a large, prospective, cohort study (the Death Prediction and Physiology after Removal of Therapy study).
Patients ≥18 years of age who died after a controlled WLSM in an intensive care unit. Patients were classified as not DCD eligible, DCD eligible with DCD attempted or DCD eligible but DCD was not attempted.
The process of WLSM (timing and type and, if applicable, dosages of measures withdrawn, dosages of analgesics/sedatives) was compared between groups.
Of the 635 patients analysed, 85% had either cardiovascular support stopped or were extubated immediately on WLSM. Of the DCD eligible patients, more were immediately extubated at the initiation of WLSM when DCD was attempted compared with when DCD was not attempted (95% vs 61%, p<0.0001). Initiation of WLSM with the immediate cessation of cardiovascular measures or early extubation was associated with earlier time to death, even after adjusting for confounders (OR 2.94, 95% CI 1.39 to 6.23, at 30 min). Other than in a few patients who received propofol, analgesic and sedative dosing after WLSM between DCD attempted and DCD eligible but not attempted patients was not significantly different. All patients died.
Patients in whom DCD is attempted may receive a different process of WLSM. This highlights the need for a standardised and transparent process for end-of-life care across the spectrum of critically ill patients and potential organ donors.