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Fingertip pulse oximetry prevented premature declaration of death
  1. Miroslaw Kiedrowski1,2,
  2. Przemyslaw Kapala1 and
  3. Andrzej Deptala2,3
  1. 1 Ewdomed Ewa Szulecka Foundation and Home Hospice, Konstancin-Jeziorna, Poland
  2. 2 Clinical Department of Oncology and Hematology, Central Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of the Interior and Administration, Warsaw, Poland
  3. 3 Division of Cancer Prevention, Medical University of Warsaw, Poland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Miroslaw Kiedrowski, Ewdomed, 05-510 Konstancin-Jeziorna, Poland; mkiedrow{at}


Objective We describe a case of persisting readings from a fingertip pulse oximeter (FPO) in an elderly cachectic woman with pancreatic cancer, who fulfilled all classical criteria of death.

Methods It is an instructive example of a home hospice patient who died during the physician’s intervention. Although all classical signs of death had been confirmed several times, a portable FPO continued to indicate satisfactory saturation and pulse readings for the following 30 min.

Results Our case report confirms that the classical criteria of death might sometimes be faulty. The application of a portable FPO prevented a premature declaration of death.

Conclusion In exceptional cases, even the most careful physical examination may erroneously indicate that a person is dead. A residual cardiac output and gas exchange may be preserved and revealed by FPO readings. In doubtful situations, FPO can provide additional information and prevent a premature declaration of death.

  • hospice care
  • respiratory conditions
  • cachexia
  • terminal care

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  • Contributors MK is responsible for the concept, case analysis, selecting the literature and writing the paper. PK and AD participated in selecting the literature, case analysis and critical appraisal of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.