Palliative care and other physicians’ knowledge, attitudes and practice relating to the law on withholding/withdrawing life-sustaining treatment: Survey results

Cartwright, Colleen Maria, White, Ben P., Willmott, Lindy, Williams, Gail, & Parker, Malcolm Holbrook (2016) Palliative care and other physicians’ knowledge, attitudes and practice relating to the law on withholding/withdrawing life-sustaining treatment: Survey results. Palliative Medicine, 30(2), pp. 171-179.

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Background: To effectively care for people who are terminally ill, including those without decision-making capacity, palliative care physicians must know and understand the legal standing of Advance Care Planning (ACP) in their jurisdiction of practice. This includes the use of advance directives/living wills (ADs) and substitute decision-makers (SDMs) who can legally consent to or refuse treatment if there is no valid AD.

Aim: The study aimed to investigate the knowledge, attitudes and practices of medical specialists most often involved in end-of-life care in relation to the law on withholding/ withdrawing life-sustaining treatment (WWLST) from adults without decision-making capacity.

Design/participants: A pre-piloted survey was posted to specialists in palliative, emergency, geriatric, renal and respiratory medicine, intensive care and medical oncology in three Australian States. Surveys were analysed using SPSS20 and SAS 9.3.

Results: The overall response rate was 32% (867/2702); 52% from palliative care specialists. Palliative Care specialists and Geriatricians had significantly more positive attitudes towards the law (χ242 = 94.352; p < 0.001) and higher levels of knowledge about the WWLST law (χ27 = 30.033; p < 0.001), than did the other specialists, while still having critical gaps in their knowledge.

Conclusions: A high level of knowledge of the law is essential to ensure that patients’ wishes and decisions, expressed through ACP, are respected to the maximum extent possible within the law, thereby according with the principles and philosophy of palliative care. It is also essential to protect health professionals from legal action resulting from unauthorised provision or removal of treatment.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 84801
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Health law, Medical law, Adult guardianship law, Withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment, Palliative care, Knowledge of law, Compliance with law, Survey of doctors, End of life decision-making
DOI: 10.1177/0269216315587996
ISSN: 1477-030X
Subjects: 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
Current > Schools > School of Law
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 The Author(s)
Deposited On: 16 Jun 2015 05:12
Last Modified: 08 May 2016 22:29

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