, Volume 39, Issue 9, pp 1565-1573
Date: 14 Jun 2013

The ETHICA study (part I): elderly’s thoughts about intensive care unit admission for life-sustaining treatments

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access



To assess preferences among individuals aged ≥80 years for a future hypothetical critical illness requiring life-sustaining treatments.


Observational cohort study of consecutive community-dwelling elderly individuals previously hospitalised in medical or surgical wards and of volunteers residing in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. The participants were interviewed at their place of residence after viewing films of scenarios involving the use of non-invasive mechanical ventilation (NIV), invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV), and renal replacement therapy after a period of invasive mechanical ventilation (RRT after IMV). Demographic, clinical, and quality-of-life data were collected. Participants chose among four responses regarding life-sustaining treatments: consent, refusal, no opinion, and letting the physicians decide.


The sample size was 115 and the response rate 87 %. Mean participant age was 84.8 ± 3.5 years, 68 % were female, and 81 % and 71 % were independent for instrumental activities and activities of daily living, respectively. Refusal rates among the elderly were 27 % for NIV, 43 % for IMV, and 63 % for RRT (after IMV). Demographic characteristics associated with refusal were married status for NIV [relative risk (RR), 2.9; 95 % confidence interval (95 %CI), 1.5–5.8; p = 0.002] and female gender for IMV (RR, 2.4; 95 %CI, 1.2–4.5; p = 0.01) and RRT (after IMV) (RR, 2.7; 95 %CI, 1.4–5.2; p = 0.004). Quality of life was associated with choices regarding all three life-sustaining treatments.


Independent elderly individuals were rather reluctant to accept life-sustaining treatments, especially IMV and RRT (after IMV). Their quality of life was among the determinants of their choices.

Part II of the ETHICA Study can be found at: doi:10.1007/s00134-013-2977-x; an editorial discussing both parts of the ETHICA Study can be found at: doi:10.1007/s00134-013-2968-y.