BMC Medical Ethics 18 (1):61 (2017)

Starting dialysis at an advanced age is a clinical challenge and an ethical dilemma. The advantages of starting dialysis at “extreme” ages are questionable as high dialysis-related morbidity induces a reflection on the cost- benefit ratio of this demanding and expensive treatment in a person that has a short life expectancy. Where clinical advantages are doubtful, ethical analysis can help us reach decisions and find adapted solutions. Mr. H is a ninety-year-old patient with end-stage kidney disease that is no longer manageable with conservative care, in spite of optimal nutritional management, good blood pressure control and strict clinical and metabolic evaluations; dialysis is the next step, but its morbidity is challenging. The case is analysed according to principlism. In the setting of care, dialysis is available without restriction; therefore the principle of justice only partially applied, in the absence of restraints on health-care expenditure. The final decision on whether or not to start dialysis rested with Mr. H. However, his choice depended on the balance between beneficence and non-maleficence. The advantages of dialysis in restoring metabolic equilibrium were clear, and the expected negative effects of dialysis were therefore decisive. Mr. H has a contraindication to peritoneal dialysis and felt performing it with nursing help would be intrusive. Post dialysis fatigue, poor tolerance, hypotension and intrusiveness in daily life of haemodialysis patients are closely linked to the classic thrice-weekly, four-hour schedule. A personalized incremental dialysis approach, starting with one session per week, adapting the timing to the patient’s daily life, can limit side effects and “dialysis shock”. An individualized approach to complex decisions such as dialysis start can alter the delicate benefit/side-effect balance, ultimately affecting the patient’s choice, and points to a narrative, tailor-made approach as an alternative to therapeutic nihilism, in very old and fragile patients.
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DOI 10.1186/s12910-017-0219-4
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Beneficence, Justice, and Health Care.J. Paul Kelleher - 2014 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 24 (1):27-49.
Narrative Ethics.Martha Montello - 2014 - Hastings Center Report 44 (s1):S2-S6.
Not Just Autonomy--The Principles of American Biomedical Ethics.S. Holm - 1995 - Journal of Medical Ethics 21 (6):332-338.

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