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Ethics of the Heart: Ethical and Policy Challenges in the Treatment of Advanced Heart Failure


Heart failure is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States and worldwide, accounting for immense health-care costs. Advanced therapies such as transplantation, ventricular assist devices, and implantable cardioverter defibrillators have had great success in significantly improving life expectancy and morbidity, however these advances have contributed substantially to the economic burden associated with this epidemic. Concomitantly, the accessibility of these advanced therapies is limited, due to a finite number of available organs for heart transplantation and, in the future, the economic costs associated with both transplant and device therapy. This article discusses ethical and policy challenges in the treatment of advanced heart failure, including decisions regarding procurement of hearts for transplant and allocation to recipients; and the complex issues surrounding the use of implantable cardioverter defibrillators and ventricular assist devices, including quality of life, advanced directive planning in the context of these devices, and resource utilization. Based on these challenges, we recommend that a discussion of these complex matters be incorporated into cardiovascular training programs.