, Volume 31, Issue 9, pp 1215-1221
Date: 22 Jul 2005

Communication of end-of-life decisions in European intensive care units

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To examine end-of-life (EOL) practices in European ICUs: who makes these decisions, how they are made, communication of these decisions and questions on communication between the physicians, nurses, patients and families.


Data collected prospectively on EOL decisions facilitated by a questionnaire including EOL decision categories, geographical regions, mental competency, information about patient wishes, and discussions with patients, families and health care professionals.


37 European ICUs in 17 countries


ICU physicians collected data on 4,248 patients.


95% of patients lacked decision making capacity at the time of EOL decision and patient’s wishes were known in only 20% of cases. EOL decisions were discussed with the family in 68% of cases. Physicians reported having more information about patients’ wishes and discussions in the northern countries (31%, 88%) than central (16%, 70%) or southern (13%, 48%) countries. The family was more often told (88%) than asked (38%) about EOL decisions. Physicians’ reasons for not discussing EOL care with the family included the fact that the patient was unresponsive to therapy (39%), the family was unavailable (28%), and the family was thought not to understand (25%).


ICU patients typically lack decision-making capacity, and physicians know patients’ wishes in only 20% of EOL decisions. There were regional differences in discussions of EOL decisions with families and other physicians. In European ICUs there seems to be a need to improve communication

P. Sjokvist died in December 2003
Funding was provided by the European Concerted Action project and by the European Commission (contract PL963733), the Chief Scientist’s Office of the Ministry of Health, Israel (grant no. 4226), the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (ESICM) and by OFES Switzerland (Biomed, no. 980271)