A critical review of advance directives in Germany: attitudes, use and healthcare professionals' compliance

Patient Educ Couns. 2012 Jun;87(3):277-88. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2011.10.004. Epub 2011 Nov 23.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning / statistics & numerical data*
  • Advance Directive Adherence*
  • Advance Directives* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Communication
  • Decision Making
  • Germany
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Physicians / psychology*