Doctors' knowledge of the law on withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining medical treatment

White, Ben, Willmott, Lindy, Cartwright, Colleen, Parker, Malcolm H., & Williams, Gail (2014) Doctors' knowledge of the law on withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining medical treatment. Medical Journal of Australia, 201(4), pp. 229-232.

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Abstract

Objectives

To examine the level of knowledge of doctors about the law on withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from adults who lack decision-making capacity, and factors associated with a higher level of knowledge.

Design, setting and participants

Postal survey of all specialists in emergency medicine, geriatric medicine, intensive care, medical oncology, palliative medicine, renal medicine and respiratory medicine on the AMPCo Direct database in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Survey initially posted to participants on 18 July 2012 and closed on 31 January 2013.

Main outcome measures

Medical specialists’ levels of knowledge about the law, based on their responses to two survey questions.

Results

Overall response rate was 32%. For the seven statements contained in the two questions about the law, the mean knowledge score was 3.26 out of 7. State and specialty were the strongest predictors of legal knowledge.

Conclusions

Among doctors who practise in the end-of-life field, there are some significant knowledge gaps about the law on withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from adults who lack decision-making capacity. Significant consequences for both patients and doctors can flow from a failure to comply with the law. Steps should be taken to improve doctors’ legal knowledge in this area and to harmonise the law across Australia.

Impact and interest:

7 citations in Scopus
12 citations in Web of Science®
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ID Code: 75943
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Knowledge of law, Legal knowledge, Doctors, Withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining medical treatment, Advance care planning, End of life decision-making, Health law, Medical law
DOI: 10.5694/mja13.00217
ISSN: 1326-5377
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700) > Public Health and Health Services not elsewhere classified (111799)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100) > Law and Society (180119)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES (220000) > APPLIED ETHICS (220100) > Medical Ethics (220106)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Health Law Research
Funding:
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2014 Australasian Medical Publishing Company
Deposited On: 04 Sep 2014 23:36
Last Modified: 08 Oct 2014 22:45

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