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Ethical issues in intensive care – a survey among Scandinavian intensivists

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The general principles of medical ethics are universally accepted. In practice, however, there is variation on how these principles are interpreted by people with different cultural backgrounds. The aim of this study was to document the views of Scandinavian intensive care physicians on intensive care unit (ICU) admission, triage, withholding and withdrawal of intensive care, and communication between the patient, the family and the ICU team. Methods: 

A questionnaire was developed and sent to 84 intensive care physicians working in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Results: 

The response rate was 61%. In general, the responses were in agreement with published guidelines. Nevertheless, there was considerable variation on what factors are taken into account when priority decisions are made. In addition, the views on the content of information provided to the family varied. A majority of 80% reported priority decisions being made on a regular basis. Less than one-half of the respondents had correct knowledge regarding the existence or lack of national guidelines on intensive care ethics. Only 8% of the respondents were aware of guidelines published by the Society of Critical Care Medicine. Conclusion: 

Variation in priority determinants between individual physicians may compromise justice in health care. An effort should be made to discuss and adopt mutual principles. In addition, the quality of information available to the patients' representatives deserves our attention. The results of this study could be used as a basis for discussion when guidelines on the ethical aspects of intensive care are developed and reviewed.
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Keywords: communication; ethics; intensive care; priority; triage; withdrawal of treatment

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine, Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland, 2: Department of Anaesthesiology, St. Olav University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway, 3: Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care, Karolinska University Hospital, Solna, Stockholm, Sweden and 4: Department of Neuroanaesthesia, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication date: 01 September 2005

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