Would they follow what has been laid down? Cancer patients' and healthy controls' views on adherence to advance directives compared to medical staff

Med Health Care Philos. 2005;8(3):297-305. doi: 10.1007/s11019-005-2108-8.


Advance directives are propagated as instruments to maintain patients' autonomy in case they can no longer decide for themselves. It has been never been examined whether patients' and healthy persons themselves are inclined to adhere to these documents. Patients' and healthy persons' views on whether instructions laid down in advance directives should be followed because that is (or is not) "the right thing to do", not because one is legally obliged to do so, were studied and compared with that of medical staff.

Method: Vignette study presenting five cases. Cancer patients, healthy persons, nursing staff and physicians (n = 100 in each group) were interviewed. An adherence score was calculated (maximum value 5). The adherence score is found to be low in all groups, yet lowest in patients (1.55; standard deviation 1.13) and healthy controls (1.60; 1.37). The scores are significantly different between nursing staff on the one hand and patients and healthy controls on the other (p < 0.005 and p < 0.05, respectively), and between doctors and patients (p < 0.05). Interviewees who want these documents to be followed tend to live alone and to have already written an advance directive.

Conclusions: Cancer patients and healthy persons widely disregard instructions laid down in advance directives and consider them less binding than physicians and nursing staff do. Only a minority tends to adhere more to advance directives. To improve decision-making at the end of life when patients are no longer able to decide for themselves alternative concepts, such as advanced care planning, should be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advance Directives / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Nursing Staff / psychology*
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Resuscitation / psychology*