Factors related to the involvement of nurses in medical end-of-life decisions in Belgium: a death certificate study

Int J Nurs Stud. 2008 Jul;45(7):1022-31. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2007.06.005. Epub 2007 Jul 27.


Background: Although nurses play an important role in end-of-life care for patients, they are not systematically involved in end-of-life decisions with a possible or certain life-shortening effect (ELDs). Until now we know little about factors relating to the involvement of nurses in these decisions.

Objective: To explore which patient- and decision-characteristics are related to the consultation of nurses and to the administering of life-ending drugs by nurses in actual ELDs in institutions and home care, as reported by physicians.

Method: We sampled at random 5005 of all registered deaths in the second half of 2001--before euthanasia was legalized--in Flanders, Belgium. We mailed anonymous questionnaires to physicians who signed the death certificates and asked them to report on ELDs, including nurses' involvement.

Results: Response rate was 59% (n=2950). Physicians reported nurses involved in decision making more often in institutions than at home, and more often in care homes for the elderly than in hospitals (OR 1.70, 95% CI 1.15, 2.52). This involvement was more frequently when physicians intended to hasten the patient's death than when they had no such intention (institutions: OR 2.05, 95% CI 1.41, 2.99; home: OR 2.04, 95% CI 1.19, 3.49). In institutions, this involvement was also more likely where patients were of lower rather than higher education (OR 2.95, 95% CI 1.49, 5.84). The administering of life-ending drugs by nurses, as reported by physicians was also found more frequently in institutions than at home, and in institutions more frequently with lower rather than higher educated patients (p=.037).

Conclusions: These findings raise questions about physicians' perception of the nurse's role in ELDs, but also about physicians' skills in interacting with all patients. Education and guidelines for physicians and nurses are needed to optimize good communication and to promote a clearer assignment of responsibilities concerning the execution of those decisions.

MeSH terms

  • Belgium
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Death Certificates*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nurses*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminal Care*