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The ethics of implantable devices
  1. Eugene B Wu
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr E B Wu
 Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Prince of Wales Hospital, Ngan Shing Street, Shatin, Hong Kong; ebwu{at}netvigator.com

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Both the doctor and the patient have rights to terminate an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) device for reasons of futility or autonomy

Implantable devices have a long history in medicine with artificial hips being implanted since 1925, pacemakers since 1957, Starr-Edwards heart valve since 1961, artificial hearts since 1982 and ventricular assist devices since 1991. The ethics of deactivation or removal of these devices were not an issue until the use of implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) device, as the ICD can produce considerable distress from defibrillation shocks in end-of-life patients. However, development of a clear ethics for ICD is critical as the massive technological advances in implantable heart failure devices will soon produce an epidemic of patients with implanted devices and end-of-life diseases. Should one turn off a biventricular pacer at the request of a patient who is having recurrent disabling heart failure? Should one turn off an AbioCor (AbioMed, Danvers, Massachusetts, USA) artificial heart in a patient who developed a severe disabling stroke from the device? Who has the right to turn off the device? Does the doctor have the right to turn it off, against the patient’s wishes, for reasons of futility? Does the patient have the right to turn it off, against the doctor’s wishes, and if so, for what reasons?

In this issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, England et al1 argue that the classification of an implantable device determines the rights of device deactivation. At the one end of the spectrum, there are semi-implanted devices like an intra-aortic balloon pump or a ventilator, where the doctor has the right to turn off the supportive therapy by commission on grounds …

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