Objectives—The study was performed in order to investigate how end-of-life decisions are influenced by cultural and sociopolitical circumstances and to explore the compliance of doctors with patient wishes
Participants and measurement—Five hundred and thirty-five physicians were surveyed in Sweden (Umeå), Germany (Rostock and Neubrandenburg), and in Russia (Arkhangelsk) by a questionnaire. The participants were recruited according to availability and are not representative. The questionnaire is based on the one developed by Molloy and co-workers in Canada which contains three case vignettes about an 82-year-old Alzheimer patient with an acute life-threatening condition; the questionnaire includes different levels of information about his treatment wishes. We have added various questions about attitudes determining doctors' decision making process (legal and ethical concerns, patient's and family wishes, hospital costs, patient's age and level of dementia and physician's religion).
Results—Swedish physicians chose fewer life-prolonging interventions as compared with the Russian and the German doctors. Swedish physicians would perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the event of a cardiac arrest less frequently, followed by the German doctors. More than half the Russian physicians decided to perform CPR irrespective of the available information about the patient's wishes. Level of dementia emerged as the most powerful determining attitude-variable for the decision making in all three countries.
Conclusions—The lack of compliance with patient wishes among a substantial number of doctors points to the necessity of emphasising ethical aspects both in medical education and clinical practice. The inconsistency in the treatment decisions of doctors from different countries calls for social consensus in this matter.
- End-of-life decision
- DNR order
- advance directive
- cross-cultural comparison
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Jörg Richter, PhD, is Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Rostock, Germany. Martin Eisemann, MD, PhD, is Profesor of Medical Psychology and Head of the Unit of Medical Psychology, University of Umeå, Sweden. Elena Zgonnikova, PhD, is Professor of Medical Psychology and Dean of the Faculty of Medical Psychology, Medical Academy of Arkhangelsk, Russia.