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End of life decisions: attitudes of Finnish physicians
  1. H-M Hildén1,
  2. P Louhiala1,
  3. J Palo2
  1. 1Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2Department of Neurology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to:
 H-M Hildén
 Pajalahdentie 9 B 23, 00200 Helsinki, Finland;


Objectives: This study investigated Finnish physicians’ experiences of decisions concerning living wills and do not resuscitate (DNR) orders and also their views on the role of patients and family members in these decisions.

Design: A questionnaire was sent to 800 physicians representing the following specialties: general practice (n = 400); internal medicine (n = 207); neurology (n = 100), and oncology (n = 93).

Results: The response rate was 56%. Most of the respondents had a positive attitude toward (92%), and respect for (86%) living wills, and 72% reported situations in which such a will would have been helpful, although experience with their use was limited. The physicians reported both benefits and problems with living wills. Thirteen per cent had completed a living will of their own. Half did not consider living wills to be reliable if they were several years old. Do not resuscitate orders were interpreted in two ways: resuscitation forbidden (70%) or only palliative (symptom oriented) care required (30%). The respondents also documented DNR orders differently. Seventy two per cent discussed DNR decisions always or often with patients able to communicate, and even 76% discussed DNR orders with the family members of patients unable to communicate. Most respondents were able to approach a dying patient without difficulty. They also felt that education in general was needed.

Conclusions: In general Finnish physicians accept living wills, but find they are accompanied by several problems. Many problems could be avoided if physicians and patients conducted progressive discussions about living wills. The differing interpretations of DNR orders are a matter of concern in that they may affect patient treatment. The promotion of patient autonomy with respect to treatment seems rather good, but the limitations of the study need to be kept in mind.

  • living wills
  • DNR orders
  • end of life decisions

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  • Professor Palo is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Neurology, University of Helsinki

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