European attitudes towards ethical problems in intensive care medicine: results of an ethical questionnaire

Intensive Care Med. 1990;16(4):256-64. doi: 10.1007/BF01705162.


A questionnaire was sent to the 590 members of the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine to define both the current practices and the opinions of these specialists on various ethical issues. The answers from 242 (41%) European members were collected and analysed. The first part of the questionnaire was designed to define the criteria for admission to Intensive Care throughout Europe. Admissions to the ICU were generally or commonly limited by the number of available beds according to 57% of the respondents and sometimes or almost never according to 41% (100/242). Bed availability in the ICU was especially limited in Spain, Portugal, Italy and the United Kingdom. Despite limited bed availability, two thirds of the respondents did admit patients who were thought to have little or no hope of survival other than for a few weeks. When asked about what ought to be done in these circumstances, the number of respondents who supported the admission of such terminal patients to ICU was halved. These data illustrate the heterogeneity of admission practices in Europe and stress the need for all ICUs to define a policy for admission. The second part was designed to assess the information given to patients in the ICU. Only 24 (10%) of the respondents stated that they always delivered complete information to their patients and only 31 (13%) thought they should do so. When an iatrogenic incident occurred, only 39 (16%) claimed to relate exactly what had happened, to the patient or their relatives but 121 (50%) thought they should. Informed consent was usually required for surgery or gastroscopy and the administration of a new medication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Critical Care*
  • Decision Making
  • Ethicists
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Europe
  • Euthanasia, Active
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Internationality
  • Life Support Care
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Admission
  • Patient Selection
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Resource Allocation*
  • Resuscitation
  • Societies, Medical
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Withholding Treatment*