A national survey of Italian physicians' attitudes towards end-of-life decisions following the death of Eluana Englaro

Biagio Solarino, Francesco Bruno, Giacomo Frati, Alessandro Dell'Erba, Paola Frati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Ethical issues regarding patient care have recently been raised in Italy by the case of Eluana Englaro, a 36-year-old woman who remained in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) for 17 years. There are no specific laws on the books in Italy regarding euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. In November 2008, a controversial decision by the Italian Supreme Court granted the woman's father his wish to discontinue nutrition and hydration provided to her. Because of this historic decision, the authors carried out a survey of Italian physicians' beliefs regarding end-of-life practices. Methods: A questionnaire was e-mailed to 70,000 physicians working for the Italian Public Health System and University Medical Hospitals. Results: A total of 22,219 doctors responded to the questionnaire (32.3%), of whom 17,252 (77.6%) had some experience in treating PVS patients. Nearly 70% of responding doctors were aware of PVS diagnostic criteria; most of them (61%) considered tube feeding to be a medical therapy, and 66% of respondents believed that withdrawal of assisted nutrition and hydration (ANH) might be appropriate depending on the patient's wishes. Moreover, even though 50% of doctors surveyed were not in favor of euthanasia, a significant percentage (42%) did approve of it, while 8% of this sample was uncertain. Conclusions: Italian doctors probably have the least experience in end-of-life decisions in Europe, therefore this national survey is a great chance to understand their authentic opinions regarding such remarkable issues. There is broad consensus that a clear legislative position regarding euthanasia and ANH is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-549
Number of pages8
JournalIntensive Care Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • Advance directive
  • Decision-making
  • End-of-life
  • Ethical issues
  • Euthanasia
  • Italy
  • Persistent vegetative state
  • Physician's role
  • Withholding treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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