The role of nurses in physician-assisted deaths in Belgium

Inghelbrecht, Els; Bilsen, Johan; Mortier, Freddy; Deliens, Luc
June 2010
CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal;6/15/2010, Vol. 182 Issue 9, p905
Academic Journal
Background: Belgium's law on euthanasia allows only physicians to perform the act. We investigated the involvement of nurses in the decision- making and in the preparation and administration of life-ending drugs with a patient's explicit request (euthanasia) or without an explicit request. We also examined factors associated with these deaths. Methods: In 2007, we surveyed 1678 nurses who, in an earlier survey, had reported caring for one or more patients who received a potential life-ending decision within the year before the survey. Eligible nurses were surveyed about their most recent case. Results: The response rate was 76%. Overall, 128 nurses reported having cared for a patient who received euthanasia and 120 for a patient who received life-ending drugs without his or her explicit request. Respectively, 64% (75/117) and 69% (81/118) of these nurses were involved in the physician's decision-making process. More often this entailed an ex change of information on the patient's condition or the patient's or relatives' wishes (45% [34/117] and 51% [41/118]) than sharing in the decision-making (24% [18/117] and 31% [25/118]). The life-ending drugs were administered by the nurse in 12% of the cases of euthanasia, as compared with 45% of the cases of assisted death without an explicit re quest. In both types of assisted death, the nurses acted on the physician's orders but mostly in the physician's absence. Factors significantly associated with a nurse administering the life- ending drugs included being a male nurse working in a hospital (odds ratio [OR] 40.07, 95% confidence interval [CI] 7.37-217.79) and the patient being over 80 years old (OR 5.57, 95% CI 1.98-15.70). Interpretation: By administering the life-ending drugs in some of the cases of euthanasia, and in almost half of the cases without an explicit request from the patient, the nurses in our study operated beyond the legal margins of their profession.


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