Physicians' own preferences to the limitation and withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy

Resuscitation. 1999 Nov;42(3):197-201. doi: 10.1016/s0300-9572(99)00114-8.


While limiting and forgoing therapy at the end of life is now accepted on medical, ethical, moral and legal grounds, many Americans continue to die with heroic measures being taken to prevent their death. Recent studies have demonstrated that physicians frequently attend to their patients without knowledge of their preferences with regards to end-of-life issues. It is postulated that a physician's personal preferences with regard to the limitation and withdrawal of life support and active euthanasia would effect the discussion they had with their patients. The purpose of this study was to analyze end-of-life preferences of a diverse group of practicing physicians. The participants were active attending physicians at a community hospital, a rural referral center, a large tertiary care referral academic complex, and a specialized tertiary care referral center all within the United States. A questionnaire was developed which was mailed to attending physicians at the four participating medical centers. The respondents provided basic demographic data, do-not-resuscitate (DNR) preferences under various clinical circumstances as well as responses to a number of case vignettes. Six hundred and forty physicians responded to the survey. The mean age of the respondents was 46 years; 72% were male. In the event of a cardiac arrest less than 20% of respondents would want to undergo cardiopulmonary resuscitation in the setting of chronic end stage organ failure; the positive response rate was 5% for metastatic cancer and 2% for Alzheimer's disease. If death was imminent, 87% of physicians indicated they would want treatment withdrawn. Similarly, 95% of respondents indicated that they would want treatment withdrawn should they be in a persistent vegetative state. Only 1% of respondents believed that health care providers should never remove or withhold life-sustaining therapy. Should they have advanced motor neuron disease, 38% of physicians indicated they would request that their life be ended. The majority of physicians surveyed volunteered that they would want life-sustaining measures to be limited at the end of their life. A significant number were in favor of active euthanasia. This study suggests that it is unlikely that physicians' personal beliefs in regards to end-of-life care result in the failure to discuss these issues with their patients.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
  • Euthanasia, Passive*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • Resuscitation Orders
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States