Background: Europe is a patchwork of 47 countries with legal, cultural, religious, and economic differences. A prior study suggested variation in ethical resuscitation/end-of-life practices across Europe. This study aimed to determine whether this variation has evolved, and whether the application of ethical practices is associated with emergency care organisation.
Methods: A questionnaire covering four domains of resuscitation ethics was developed based on consensus: (A) Approaches to end-of-life care and family presence during cardiopulmonary resuscitation; (B) Determinants of access to best resuscitation and post-resuscitation care; (C) Diagnosis of death and organ donation (D) Emergency care organisation. The questionnaire was sent to representatives of 32 countries. Responses to 4-choice or 2-choice questions pertained to local legislation and common practice. Positive responses were graded by 1 and negative responses by 0; grades were reconfirmed/corrected by respondents from 31/32 countries (97%). For each resuscitation/end-of-life practice a subcomponent score was calculated by grades' summation. Subcomponent scores' summation resulted in domain total scores.
Results: Data from 31 countries were analysed. Domains A, B, and D total scores exhibited substantial variation (respective total score ranges, 1-41, 0-19 and 9-32), suggesting variable interpretation and application of bioethical principles, and particularly of autonomy. Linear regression revealed a significant association between domain A and D total scores (adjusted r(2)=0.42, P<0.001).
Conclusions: According to key experts, ethical practices and emergency care still vary across Europe. There is need for harmonised legislation, and improved, education-based interpretation/application of bioethical principles. Better application of ethical practices may be associated with improved emergency care organisation.
Keywords: Bioethics; Cardiac arrest; Emergency care; End of life care; Resuscitation.
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