Physician perspectives on legal processes for resolving end-of-life disputes

Healthc Q. 2011;14(2):69-74. doi: 10.12927/hcq.2013.22383.


In order to understand how to effectively approach end-of-life disputes, this study surveyed physicians' attitudes towards one process for resolving end-of-life disputes, namely, the Consent and Capacity Board of Ontario. In this case, the process involved examining interpretation of best interests between substitute decision-makers and medical teams. Physicians who made "Form G" applications to the Consent and Capacity Board of Ontario that resulted in a decision posted on the open-access database, Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLii), were identified and surveyed. This purposive sample led to 13 invitations to participate and 12 interviews (92% response rate). Interviews were conducted using a prescribed interview guide. No barriers to the Consent and Capacity Board process were reported. Applications were made when physicians reached an impasse with the family and further treatment was perceived to be "unethical." The most significant challenge reported was the delay when appeals were launched. Appeals extended the process for an indefinite period of time making it so lengthy it negated any perceived benefits of the process. Benefits included that a neutral third party, namely the Consent and Capacity Board, was able to assess best interests. Also, when decisions were timely, further harm to the patient was minimized. Physicians reported this particular approach, namely the Consent and Capacity Board has a mechanism that is worthwhile, patient centred, process oriented, orderly and efficient for resolving end-of-life disputes and, in particular, determining best interests. However, unless the appeal process can be adjusted to respond to the ICU context there is a risk of not serving the best interest of patients. Physicians would recommend framing end-of-life treatment plans in the positive instead of negative, for example, propose palliative care and no escalation of treatment as opposed to withdrawal.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Decision Making
  • Family / psychology
  • Humans
  • Negotiating / methods
  • Negotiating / psychology
  • Ontario
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Terminal Care / legislation & jurisprudence*