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ETHICS IN MEDICINE   University of Washington School of Medicine

Advance Directives:
Case 2 Discussion

If the man has deteriorated to the point that he can no longer communicate, his living will may be a helpful guide to decisionmaking. The language of the directive, however, is difficult to interpret in this case. Pneumonia represents a potentially reversible condition from which the patient may recover fully. Mechanical ventilation does not serve only to "prolong death" but offers a significant chance to return to his previous level of functioning. Most patients with even end-stage emphysema can be successfully weaned from mechanical ventilation. The intent of the directive, whether to avoid intubation and ventilation at all costs or simply to withhold such therapies when they are clearly futile, is not evident. In the absence of other information to aid the decision, mechanical ventilation should be instituted, with the plan that it be discontinued if it becomes evident that the patient cannot be weaned.

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