End-of-life issues in intensive care units: A national random survey of nurses' knowledge and beliefs

Kathleen A. Puntillo, Patricia Benner, Theresa Drought, Barbara Drew, Nancy Stotts, Daphne Stannard, Cynthia Rushton, Colleen Scanlon, Cheri White

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73 Scopus citations


• Objective To investigate the knowledge, beliefs, and ethical concerns of nurses caring for patients dying in intensive care units. • Methods A survey was mailed to 3000 members of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. The survey contained various scenarios depicting end-of-life actions for patients: pain management, withholding or withdrawing life support, assisted suicide, and voluntary and nonvoluntary euthanasia. • Results Most of the respondents (N = 906) correctly identified the distinctions among the end-of-life actions depicted in the scenarios. Almost all (99%-100%) agreed with the actions of pain management and withholding or withdrawing life support. A total of 83% disagreed with assisted suicide, 95% disagreed with voluntary euthanasia, and 89% to 98% disagreed with nonvoluntary euthanasia. Most (78%) thought that dying patients frequently (31%) or sometimes (47%) received inadequate pain medicine, and almost all agreed with the double-effect principle. Communication between nurses and physicians was generally effective, but unit-level conferences that focused on grief counseling and debriefing staff rarely (38%) or never (49%) occurred. Among the respondents, 37% had been asked to assist in hastening a patient's death. Although 59% reported that they seldom acted against their consciences in caring for dying patients, 34% indicated that they sometimes had acted against their conscience, and 6% had done so to a great extent. • Conclusions Intensive care unit nurses strongly support good pain management for dying patients and withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining therapies to allow unavoidable death. The vast majority oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia. Wider professional and public dialogue on end-of-life care in intensive care units is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)216-229
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Critical Care
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care


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