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Fingertip pulse oximetry prevented premature declaration of death


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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