Longstanding concerns regarding end of life in the ICU led in France to the publication of guidelines, updated in 2009, that take into account the insights provided by a recent law (Leonetti’s law) regarding patients’ rights. After the French President asked a specific expert to review end of life issues, the French Intensive Care Society (SRLF) surveyed their members (doctors and paramedics) about various aspects of end of life in the ICU.
SRLF members were invited to respond to a questionnaire, sent by Email, designed to assess their knowledge of Leonetti’s law and to determine how many caregivers would agree with the authorization of lethal drug administration in selected end of life situations.
Questionnaires returned by 616 (23%) of 2,700 members were analyzed. Most members (82.5%) reported that they had a good knowledge of Leonetti’s law, which most (88%) said they have often applied. One third of respondents had received ‘assisted death’ requests from patients and more than 50% from patients’ relatives. One quarter of respondents had experienced the wish to give lethal drugs to end of life patients. Assuming that palliative care in the ICU is well-managed, 25.7% of the respondents would approve a law authorizing euthanasia, while 26.5% would not. Answers were influenced by the fear of a possible risk of abuse. Doctors and nurses answered differently.
ICU caregivers appear to be well acquainted with Leonetti’s law. Nevertheless, in selected clinical situations with suitable palliative care, one quarter of respondents were in favor of a law authorizing administration of lethal drugs to patients.