Doctors are using hypothermia to treat dying patients

In a simulation, doctors in Pittsburgh practice a procedure that involves draining the blood of a patient and replacing it with icy cold salt water. (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center)


Researchers are beginning a trial that will use hypothermia to treat trauma patients who are almost certain to die. The procedure is promising, but also comes with unusual ethical concerns.

Therapeutic hypothermia is commonly understood to cool the body down, slow its functioning, and give doctors more time to perform repairs.

But researchers at the Pittsburgh Medical Center plan to use hypothermia in a new and novel way -- on patients with life-threatening injuries with high blood loss, such as stabbing and gunshot wounds. The treatment involves injecting icy-cold salty water directly into the patient's heart, in an attempt to give doctors more time to do their work.

To discuss the trials, the ethical questions surrounding them, and the history of hypothermia in a medical setting, we were joined by three guests:

  • Dr. Samuel Tisherman is leading the study on using hypothermia to treat trauma patients. He was in Pittsburgh.
  • Dr. Stephen Workman is an interest and bio-ethicist based in Halifax.
  • Dr. Jackie Duffin is a medical historian, hematologist and cancer specialist at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

Do you have ethical concerns about the trials?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Dawna Dingwall and Naheed Mustafa.

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