University of Wisconsin–Madison

Archive: Dr. Gretchen Schwarze’s new study examines surgeons’ decisions to withdraw life support

Margaret L Schwarze, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, surveyed 912 vascular, cardiothoracic and neurosurgeons across the country to better understand their practices regarding decisions about the withdrawal of life support. The survey presented surgeons with different scenarios where a patient suffers dire post-operative complications. In one scenario, the problem is caused by surgeon error; in another, it is unclear what caused the complications; sometimes the operation is portrayed as an emergency and sometimes as an elective procedure.

Surgeons who believe their technical error harmed a patient are much less likely to honor that patient’s request to withdraw life-supporting therapy than if the patient’s complications were not clearly the result of a surgical mistake, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

The study, published online today ahead of its appearance in the July issue of Annals of Surgery, is the first large-scale study to identify a link between surgeons’ personal responsibility for technical performance and their decisions about post-operative life-supporting treatments. Click below to read more.