Objective: Recent legal changes in Germany make non-compliance with advance directives (ADs) a criminal offence. This article assesses the evidence on attitudes towards, use of, and physician compliance with ADs in Germany.
Methods: Critical review: studies on ADs, identified from a systematic review of culture and end-of-life care in Germany (11 electronic databases, 3 journals, reference lists, and grey literature), were included. An interpretative synthesis of findings revealed cross-cutting themes.
Results: Thirty-two studies (1996-2009) were identified. Key themes were: awareness; utilization; compliance; and bindingness of ADs. There was a positive trend between awareness of ADs and study publication date. Use varied between patient groups (0.3-62%) and was low amongst the general population (2.5-10%). Fears about ADs' purpose and possible abuse were identified. Physician discomfort in discussing ADs and non-compliance were reported. Physicians preferred legally binding ADs, though conflicting results were reported for patients' desired level of bindingness.
Conclusion: Although there is increasing awareness of ADs in Germany, there remains low use, poor communication, fears of abuse, some non-compliance and contradictory evidence regarding desired bindingness.
Practical implications: Although legal changes will hopefully improve compliance, low awareness, communication difficulties and uncertainties surrounding ADs must be addressed if use is to increase.
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