Post-Cardiotomy Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation: Narrative Review Navigating the Ethical Issues

Post-cardiotomy shock (PCS) is an uncommon and life-threatening surgical complication. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is the first line of mechanical circulatory support for treating PCS when medical therapies are insufficient. Reaching a “therapeutic ceiling” or a “bridge to nowhere” is a common clinical scenario where medical avenues for recovery have been exhausted. These situations pose emotional and ethical challenges for patients, their surrogates, and clinicians. To shed light on these ethically challenging situations in PCS and potential approaches, we conducted a narrative review of the literature.