European Doctors Often Withhold Life-Extending Care

But study finds frequency varies widely between countries

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WEDNESDAY, March 2, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Whether or not a European patient will receive life-prolonging treatment when they are near death may depend on the country in which they live, according to new study.

Reporting in the Feb. 28 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers at the University of Zurich, in Switzerland, sent questionnaires on end-of-life care to physicians across Europe. They asked doctors about treatment decisions for terminal patients cared for between June 2001 and February 2002.

Decisions not to treat were reported for 41 percent of deaths in Switzerland, 30 percent in the Netherlands, 27 percent in Belgium, 23 percent in Denmark, 22 percent in Sweden and 6 percent in Italy.

Medication was the treatment most frequently foregone in all of the countries except Italy. Forgoing hydration or nutrition treatment was also common.

"In all of the participating countries, life-prolonging treatment is withheld or withdrawn at the end of life," the authors wrote. "In older patients and outside the hospital, physicians prefer not to initiate life-prolonging treatment at all, rather than stop it later."

More information

The National Library of Medicine has more about end-of-life care.

SOURCES: American Medical Association, news release, Feb. 28, 2005

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