Do we always want an implantable defibrillator?

There is a cultural tendency to favor technological interventions even when with serious reflection we may not be so sure.  The follow study raises some important issues about implanting defibrillators in elderly patients.  Does this save lives or simply prolong dying?

from a study in Science Direct

We take the example of cardiac devices, specifically the implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, to explore the complex cultural role of technology in medicine today. We focus on persons age 80 and above, for whom ICD use is growing in the U.S. We highlight an ironic feature of this device. While it postpones death and ’saves’ life by thwarting a lethal heart rhythm, it also prolongs living in a state of dying from heart failure. In that regard the ICD is simultaneously a technology of life extension and dying. We explore that irony among the oldest age group — those whose considerations of medical interventions are framed by changing societal assumptions of what constitutes premature death, the appropriate time for death and medicine’s goals in an aging society. Background to the rapidly growing use of this device among the elderly is the ‘technological imperative’ in medicine, bolstered today by the value given to evidence-based studies. We show how evidence contributes to standards of care and to the expansion of Medicare reimbursement criteria. Together, those factors shape the ethical necessity of physicians offering and patients accepting the ICD in late life.

much more via Do we always want an implantable defibrillator?

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