Knowledge of the law about withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment by intensivists and other specialists

Document Type


Publication details

White, B, Wilmott, L, Cartwright, C, Parker, MH & Williams, G 2016, 'Knowledge of the law about withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment by intensivists and other specialists', Critical Care and Resuscitation, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 109-115.


OBJECTIVE: Decisions about withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment (WWLST) from adults who lack capacity are an integral part of intensive care (IC) practice. We compare the knowledge, attitudes and practice of intensivists in relation to the law about WWLST with six other specialties most often involved in end-of-life care.

DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: We used a cross-sectional postal survey of medical specialists in the three most populous Australian states, and analysed responses from 867 medical specialists from the seven specialties most likely to be involved in WWLST decisions in the acute-care setting (emergency, geriatric, palliative, renal and respiratory medicine, medical oncology and IC).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Attitudes to, and knowledge and practice of, the law relating to end-of-life care.

RESULTS: Of 2702 surveys sent to eligible practitioners, 867 completed questionnaires were returned. There was an overall response rate of 32% and an IC response rate also of 32% (125/388). Intensivists performed better than average in legal knowledge but important knowledge gaps remain. Intensivists had a more negative attitude to the role of law in this area than other specialty groups but reported being seen as a leading source of information about legal issues by other medical specialists and nurses. Intensivists also reported being the specialists most frequently making decisions about end-of-life treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: Improved legal knowledge and open engagement with the law can help manage the risk of harm to patients and protect intensivists from liability. IC guidelines and continuing professional development are important strategies to address these issues.

Find in your library