Treatment decisions for terminally ill patients: physicians' legal defensiveness and knowledge of medical law.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

In this study, we investigated physicians' attitudes, knowledge, and reported practices regarding the effects of perceived legal constraints on the abatement of life-sustaining treatment from patients who are clearly dying. A factor in assessing these issues is the concept of defensive medicine -- that is the perception that doctors are being forced to order every possible laboratory test and second opinion, or to continue providing non-beneficial life-sustaining treatment, solely to protect themselves from future legal claims. This perception appears widespread among practicing physicians. However, we believe that defensive medicine represents only part of a complex constellation of factors that comprise physicians' reluctance to abate treatment. This phenomenon encompasses medical, legal, social, psychological, and spiritual factors interacting in ways that are not fully understood. We remain cognizant of the potential impact of all these factors. For purposes of this article, however, we have chosen to focus on legal and psychological aspects of physicians' reluctance to abate treatment and the corresponding ethical implications.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • McCrary, SV; Swanson, JW; Perkins, HS; Winslade, WJ

Published Date

  • December 1, 1992

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 20 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 364 - 376

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0277-8459

Citation Source

  • Scopus