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Medical end-of-life decisions: experiences and attitudes of Belgian pediatric intensive care nurses

Publication year
Inghelbrecht, E.; Bilsen, J.; Pereth, H.; Ramet, J.; Deliens, L.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate Belgian pediatric intensive care nurses’ involvement in and attitudes toward medical end-of-life decisions with a possible or certain life-shortening effect. METHODS: Questionnaires were distributed to 141 nurses working in 5 of the 7 pediatric intensive care units in Belgium. Nurses were asked to recall the last child in their care whose treatment involved an end-of-life decision and to describe anonymously their involvement in the decision. Attitudes were ascertained by means of statements and a Likert scale. RESULTS: Questionnaires were completed by 89 nurses (63%). During the preceding 2 years, 76 (85%) had cared for at least 1 child for whom a medical end-of-life decision had been made. Nurses were involved in initiating the decision in 17% of cases, participated in decision making in 50%, and played a role in carrying out the decision in 90%. Only 6% of nurses found it always ethically wrong to hasten the death of a child by administering lethal drugs; most nurses (78%) reported they were prepared to cooperate in administering life-ending drugs in some cases. Most (89%) favored adapting the law, making life termination of children legally possible in certain cases. CONCLUSIONS: Belgian pediatric intensive care nurses are often involved in carrying out medical end-of-life decisions, including administration of life-ending drugs, whereas their participation in decision making is more limited. Most think that the current euthanasia law should be extended to minors so that administering life-ending drugs would be possible for terminally ill children in specific circumstances.

Research abstracts