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End of life, Family, ICU, Withdrawal of life support, Withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy



  1. Wiegand, Debra L. RN, PhD


Background: Life-sustaining therapy is commonly withdrawn in intensive care units, yet little is known about the perceptions of families when a critically ill patient dies after life-sustaining therapy is withdrawn.


Aim: The purpose of this investigation was to understand the experience of families when a family member had an unexpected life-threatening illness or injury and who died after life-sustaining therapy was withdrawn.


Methods: This investigation used a hermeneutic phenomenological approach. Interviews were conducted with family members after the patient's death. All interviews were transcribed with units of meaning and clusters, and then categories inductively determined. Methodological rigor was established.


Setting/Participants: A purposive sample of family members was recruited into the study from 3 intensive care units. Twenty-two family members participated in the study.


Results: Six categories evolved from the analysis: preparing for the dying process, the dying environment, perceptions of patient comfort, the death vigil, essential aspects of care, and together as a family. Families described the death vigil as extremely difficult. Family members described several aspects of care as very meaningful to them during the dying process. Families described how important it was for the family to be together as a family during the dying process.