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Intricate decision making: ambivalences and barriers when fulfilling an advance directive

Authors Schröder L, Hommel G, Sahm S

Received 23 March 2016

Accepted for publication 27 May 2016

Published 16 August 2016 Volume 2016:10 Pages 1583—1589

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/PPA.S109040

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Lucy Goodman

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Johnny Chen

Lars Schröder,1 Gerhard Homme,1,2 Stephan Sahm3,4

1Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Center of Integrated Oncology, University Hospital Bonn, Bonn, 2Institute of Medical Biometry, Epidemiology and Informatics, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, 3Department of Gastroenterology and Oncology, Ketteler Hospital, Offenbach, 4Institute for Ethics and History of Medicine, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany


Background: Despite a recent statutory ruling stating the binding nature of advance directives (ADs), only a minority of the population has signed one. Yet, a majority deem it of utmost importance to ensure their wishes are followed through in case they are no longer able to decide. The reasons for this discrepancy have not yet been investigated sufficiently.
Patients and methods: This article is based on a survey of patients using a well-established structured questionnaire. First, patients were asked about their attitudes with respect to six therapeutic options at the end of life: intravenous fluids, artificial feeding, antibiotics, analgesia, chemotherapy/dialysis, and artificial ventilation; and second, they were asked about the negative effects related to the idea of ADs surveying their apprehensions: coercion to fulfill an AD, dictatorial reading of what had been laid down, and abuse of ADs.
Results: A total of 1,260 interviewees completed the questionnaires. A significant percentage of interviewees were indecisive with respect to therapeutic options, ranging from 25% (analgesia) to 45% (artificial feeding). There was no connection to health status. Apprehensions about unwanted effects of ADs were widespread, at 51%, 35%, and 43% for coercion, dictatorial reading, and abuse, respectively.
Conclusion: A significant percentage of interviewees were unable to anticipate decisions about treatment options at the end of life. Apprehensions about negative adverse effects of ADs are widespread.

Keywords: advance directive, living will, decision making, patient’s desires, therapy at the end of life, advanced care planning

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