Population Characteristics and Markers for Withdrawal of Life-Sustaining Therapy in Patients on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

Julia M. Carlson, Eric W. Etchill, Clare Angeli G. Enriquez, Anna Peeler, Glenn J. Whitman, Chun Woo Choi, Romergryko G. Geocadin, Sung Min Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: As survival with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) therapy improves, it is important to study patients who do not survive secondary to withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy (WLST). The purpose of the present study was to determine the population and clinical characteristics of those who experienced short latency to WLST. Design: Retrospective cohort study. Setting: Single academic hospital center. Participants: Adult ECMO patients. Interventions: None. Measurements and Main Results: During the study period, 150 patients (mean age 54.8 ± 15.9 y, 43.3% female) underwent ECMO (80% venoarterial ECMO and 20% venovenous ECMO). Seventy-three (48.7%) had WLST from ECMO support (median five days), and 33 of those (45.2%) had early WLST (≤five days). Patients who underwent WLST were older (60.3 ± 15.3 y v 49.6 ± 14.7 y; p < 0.001) than those who did not undergo WLST and had greater body mass index (31.7 ± 7.6 kg/m2 v 28.3 ± 5.5 kg/m2; p = 0.002), longer ECMO duration (six v four days; p = 0.01), and higher Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (25 v 21; p < 0.001) and Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (12 v 11; p = 0.037) scores. Family request frequently (91.7%) was cited as part of the WLST decision. WLST patients experienced more chaplaincy (89% v 65%; p < 0.001), palliative care consults (53.4% v 29.9%; p = 0.003), and code status change (do not resuscitate: 83.6% v 7.8%; p < 0.001). Conclusions: Nearly 50% of ECMO patients underwent WLST, with approximately 25% occurring in the first 72 hours. These patients were older, sicker, and experienced a different clinical context. Unlike with other critical illnesses, neurologic injury was not a primary reason for WLST in ECMO patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)833-839
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of cardiothoracic and vascular anesthesia
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • brain injury
  • extracorporeal membrane oxygenation therapy
  • withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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