Objective To determine the public's understanding of and views about a range of ethical issues in relation to death and dying.
Design Random, digit-dialling, telephone interview
Participants 667 adult individuals.
Results The general public are unfamiliar with terms associated with end-of-life care. Although most want to be informed if they have a terminal illness, they also value family support in this regard. Most of the respondents believe that competent patients have the right to refuse life-saving treatment. Most also (mistakenly) believe that families, either alone or with physicians, have the authority to make decisions about starting or stopping treatment for incompetent patients. Most Irish people are more concerned about the quality of their dying than death itself. Religious commitment is important to most Irish people, and this impacts on their views about medical treatment and care at the end of life.
Conclusions The study paints a picture of a general public that is not very comfortable with or informed about the processes of dying and death. Great sensitivity is required of health professionals who must negotiate the timing and the context of breaking of bad news with patients and families. Educational interventions, public and organisational policies and legislation need to address the uncertainty that surrounds the role of professionals and families in making decisions for dying patients.
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Funding This study was funded by the Irish Hospice Foundation.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the clinical research ethics committee of the Cork Teaching Hospitals.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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