BACKGROUND: The nature and intensity of a do-not-resuscitate therapeutic plan varies by patient. Some do-not-resuscitate therapeutic plans may include interventions directed at the withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of patient consciousness on the nature and intensity of the do-not-resuscitate plan, and on the decision to withdraw life-sustaining therapy. METHODS: This study represents a secondary analysis of data obtained in a previous study to evaluate patient care requirements under varying intensities of do-not-resuscitate plans. Data were collected retrospectively through record review. Patients were grouped as follows, according to the intensity of the do-not-resuscitate plan: (1) all but cardiopulmonary resuscitation, (2) conservative care without cardiopulmonary resuscitation, (3) comfort only, and (4) withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy. In addition to demographic data, consciousness and illness severity were measured. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. RESULTS: There was a significant decrease in consciousness from admission in all groups except conservative care. The withdrawal group had the lowest average Glasgow Coma Scale scores at the time of the do-not-resuscitate designation. Multiple regression analysis was used to demonstrate a significant impact of consciousness on type of do-not-resuscitate decision, but no significant impact from age or illness severity. CONCLUSIONS: These results support previous observations that decisions to withdraw life-sustaining therapy are prompted by diminished consciousness. These results may stimulate caregivers to offer withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy as an option in patients with severely decreased consciousness and a poor prognosis for functional recovery.

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