Title

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

Document Type

Article

Publication details

White, B, Willmott, L, Cartwright, C, Parker, MH & Williams, G 2014, 'Doctors' knowledge of the law on withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining medical treatment', The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 201, no. 4, pp. 229-232.

Published version available from:

http://dx.doi.org/10.5694/mja13.00217

Peer Reviewed

Peer-Reviewed

Abstract

To examine doctors’ level of knowledge of the law on withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from adults who lack decisionmaking capacity, and factors associated with a higher level of knowledge. 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. Medical specialists’ levels of knowledge about the law, based on their responses to two survey questions. 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. Among doctors who practise in the end-of-life fi eld, there are some signifi cant knowledge gaps about the law on withholding and withdrawing lifesustaining treatment from adults who lack decision-making capacity. Signifi cant consequences for both patients and doctors can fl ow 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.