The ethics of chronic dialysis for the older patient: Time to reevaluate the norms

Academic Article


  • Recent research highlights the potential burdens of hemodialysis for older patients with significant comorbidities, for whom there is clinical equipoise regarding the net benefits.With the advent of accountable care and bundled payment, previous incentives to offer hemodialysis to as many patients as possible are being replaced with a disincentive to dialyze high-risk patients. While this may offset the harm of overtreatment for some elderly patients, some voice concerns that the pendulum will swing too far back, with a return to ageist rationing of hemodialysis.Nephrologists should ensure that the patient’s rights to be informed about the potential benefits and burdens of hemodialysis are respected, particularly because age, functional status, nutritional status, and comorbidities affect the net balance between benefits and burdens. Nephrologists are also called on to help patients make a decision, for which the patient’s goals of care guide determination of potential benefit from hemodialysis. This article addresses concerns about present overtreatment and future risk of undertreatment of older adults with ESRD. It also discusses ways in which providers can ethically approach the question of initiation of hemodialysis in the elderly patient by including patient-specific estimates of prognosis, shared decision-making, and the use of specialist palliative care clinicians or ethics consultants for complex cases.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Thorsteinsdottir B; Swetz KM; Albright RC
  • Start Page

  • 2094
  • End Page

  • 2099
  • Volume

  • 10
  • Issue

  • 11