Reply To: 79 year old 1.5 months on ventilator GBS/CIDP

October 17, 2013 at 3:33 am

End-of-life issues are the most difficult, particularly when family members disagree. I’m no expert, but I think the spouse is the person responsible. If she has any doubts, I would encourage her to discuss them with neutral persons who are accustomed to dealing with them. The hospital chaplin, certainly, and her own pastor if she has one. There are other counselers that can be consulted.

I do have a concern with a DNR for someone with GBS. Such a person is usually only temporarily unable to breathe without a ventilator, so it is not all the same as someone who will never be able to breathe again. Even more important, as you note, a person with a severe case of GBS can be fully aware of his situation but be paralyzed so unable to communicate his own feelings and desires. A person with extreme GBS is not dead as a practical matter and only being kept alive by extraordinary means — he is alive but severely disabled. To turn off his ventilator would not seem appropriate to me and could be considered cruel, although I do not know the particulars in this case.

Finally, six weeks in this state does not seem to me to be extremely long for persons with the most extreme cases of GBS paralysis. I would definitely seek an expert medical opinion on this.

Another thing to consider is his age. Although most people recover from GBS with modern treatment, a few do not. He may be too weak to survive this ordeal so you should be prepared for it. If he does succumb, it does not necessarily mean that he did not receive all the appropriate treatment.

My thoughts are with you in dealing with this very difficult matter and I pray that your father recovers.