"That's what intensive care units are for, to rescue people," Wenger said. "What's startling is the doctors here told us they were no longer using intensive care in a useful way for the patients."
A more thorough discussion of the costs and benefits of continued treatment could help doctors and families better judge whether the care would be helpful or futile, but Wenger said the parties involved are often reluctant to have that type of talk when a loved one lies dying.
"It means having a lot of hard conversations. It means talking about what the course of care should be if the surgery doesn't work or if the patient doesn't get better," he said.
"It's much easier to focus on the positive only," he added. "If those conversations don't happen, it's the family left to decide what to do, never having had the opportunity to talk with the patient about it."
For more information on critical care, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
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