Ethical challenges with hemodialysis patients who lack decision-making capacity: Behavioral issues, surrogate decision-makers, and end-of-life situations

Academic Article


  • Hemodialysis (HD) is routinely offered to patients with end-stage renal disease in the United States who are ineligible for other renal replacement modalities. The frequency of HD among the US population is greater than all other countries, except Taiwan and Japan. In US, patients are often dialyzed irrespective of age, comorbidities, prognosis, or decision-making capacity. Determination of when patients can no longer dialyze is variable and can be dialysis-center specific. Determinants may be related to progressive comorbidities and frailty, mobility or access issues, patient self-determination, or an inability to tolerate the treatment safely for any number of reasons (e.g., hypotension, behavioral issues). Behavioral issues may impact the safety of not only patients themselves, but also those around them. In this article the authors present the case of an elderly patient on HD with progressive cognitive impairment and combative behavior placing him and others at risk of physical harm. The authors discuss the medical, ethical, legal, and psychosocial challenges to care of such patients who lack decision-making capacity with a focus on variable approaches by regions and culture. This manuscript provides recommendations and highlights resources to assist nephrologists, dialysis personnel, ethics consultants, and palliative medicine teams in managing such patients to resolve conflict. © 2014 International Society of Nephrology.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Feely MA; Albright RC; Thorsteinsdottir B; Moss AH; Swetz KM
  • Start Page

  • 475
  • End Page

  • 480
  • Volume

  • 86
  • Issue

  • 3