Age and life-sustaining treatment. Attitudes of intensive care unit professionals

Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 1996 Sep;40(8 Pt 1):904-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-6576.1996.tb04558.x.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives
  • Age Factors*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Euthanasia, Passive / psychology
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Life Support Care / psychology*
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden