Pacemaker deactivation: Withdrawal of support or active ending of life?

Academic Article


  • In spite of ethical analyses assimilating the palliative deactivation of pacemakers to commonly accepted withdrawings of life-sustaining therapy, many clinicians remain ethically uncomfortable with pacemaker deactivation at the end of life. Various reasons have been posited for this discomfort. Some cardiologists have suggested that reluctance to deactivate pacemakers may stem from a sense that the pacemaker has become part of the patient's "self." The authors suggest that Daniel Sulmasy is correct to contend that any such identification of the pacemaker is misguided. The authors argue that clinicians uncomfortable with pacemaker deactivation are nevertheless correct to see it as incompatible with the traditional medical ethics of withdrawal of support. Traditional medical ethics is presently taken by many to sanction pacemaker deactivation when such deactivation honors the patient's right to refuse treatment. The authors suggest that the right to refuse treatment applies to treatments involving ongoing physician agency. This right cannot underwrite patient demands that physicians reverse the effects of treatments previously administered, in which ongoing physician agency is no longer implicated. The permanently indwelling pacemaker is best seen as such a treatment. As such, its deactivation in the pacemaker-dependent patient is best seen not as withdrawal of support but as active ending of life. That being the case, clinicians adhering to the usual ethical analysis of withdrawal of support are correct to be uncomfortable with pacemaker deactivation at the end of life. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Huddle TS; Amos Bailey F
  • Start Page

  • 421
  • End Page

  • 433
  • Volume

  • 33
  • Issue

  • 6