Clarification and Mitigation of Ethical Problems Surrounding Withdrawal of Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

Author(s): Susan B. Williams, BSN, RNC-NIC, Michael D. Dahnke, PhD

Contact Hours 1.00

CERP B 1.00

Expires Oct 01, 2019

Topics: Ethics, Multisystem

Level: Proficient

Population: Adult

Role: APRN, Staff

Member: Free
NonMember: $10.00

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Activity Summary

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is temporary life-support technology that provides time to rest the cardiac and respiratory system of critically ill people with acute, reversible medical conditions. Health care providers face emotional and challenging situations, where death may result, when withdrawing ECMO. A deepening of understanding of the ethical issues involved can aid clinicians in handling such difficult situations, leading to a possible mitigation of the moral problems. Toward this end, the ethical issues raised in the consideration of ECMO withdrawal are analyzed with respect to the ethical principles and concepts of autonomy, nonmaleficence/beneficence, medical futility, moral distress, and justice. In particular, these issues are considered in relation to how they affect and can be addressed by staff nurses and advanced practice nurses in the intensive care unit. Advanced practice nurses in particular can represent the voice of nurses to promote a healthier workplace in situations of moral distress related to stopping ECMO life-support technology and in developing clear and consistent guidelines for ceasing ECMO treatment, all leading toward clarification and mitigation of the ethical problems surrounding the withdrawal of this critical technology.


  • To identify and analyze the ethical conflicts that arise with the utilization of Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), particularly conflicts involved in withdrawal of this technology.
  • To explore the nurse’s role in dealing with ethical conflicts regarding withdrawal of ECMO.
  • To offer suggestions for change in order to mitigate ethical conflicts of ECMO withdrawal.

Continuing Education Disclosure Statement

Successful Completion

Learners must attend/view/read the entire activity and complete the associated evaluation to be awarded the contact hours or CERP. No partial credit will be awarded.


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