Objective: This study was undertaken to identify attributes of physicians associated with physicians' decisions to withdraw life support.
Methods: Of the 862 Pennsylvania internists surveyed and asked to make decisions in response to hypothetical vignettes and to report their actual experience with the withdrawal of life support, 485 (56%) responded. The data were analyzed with regression models.
Results: With other factors controlled, physicians were more willing to withdraw life support if they were young, practiced in a tertiary care setting, or spent more time in clinical practice; they were less willing if they were Catholic or Jewish. Physicians reported a higher frequency of actually withdrawing life support if they were young, had more contact with ICU patients, spent more time in clinical practice, or were specialists. Physicians with a greater willingness to withdraw were more likely to report having done so.
Conclusions: Physicians' personal characteristics are associated with both their preferences and their practice in the withdrawal of life support, and a greater willingness to withdraw is associated with a higher frequency of withdrawal. The influence of physician characteristics demonstrates that patient preferences and clinical circumstances do not exclusively govern such ethical decisions.