Background: In Sweden, the official policy is that life-sustaining treatment should not be denied because of chronological age. This policy is also emphasised in a recent official report on priority setting in health care. But is this policy accepted among health care professionals? Do they consider chronological age relevant when decisions to forgo life-sustaining treatment are to be made?
Method: Questionnaire survey to physicians, registered nurses and enrolled nurses at the Intensive Care Unit, University Hospital MAS, Malmö, Sweden.
Results: More than 65% of the respondents were of the opinion that chronological age per se influenced decisions about life-sustaining treatment. Fewer, a little more than 40%, answered that it would make a difference to their own judgment about life-sustaining treatment whether the patient is 25 or 75 years old. The respondents were also confronted with 10 different factors characterising patients in need of life-sustaining treatment. According to a majority, advance directive, decision-making capacity, and chronological age should be taken into consideration in these situations.
Conclusion: The results indicate that chronological age is used as a criterion when decisions to forgo life-sustaining treatment are to be made in the ICU. Many health care professionals also believe that chronological age should be used as a criterion. This is clearly discordant with the official policy in Sweden and other countries, which is that age-based rationing is never justified.