Forgoing life sustaining treatments: Differences and similarities between North America and Europe

N. M. Moselli, F. Debernardi, F. Piovano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: As evidence exist that severe neurological damage or prolonged death after inappropriate CPR could occur, restraints and indications for CPR were perceived as necessary. The objective of this review is to examine policies and attitudes towards end-of-life decisions in Europe and North America and to outline differences and similarities. Methods: A bibliographic database search from 1990 to 2006 was performed using the following terms: do-not-resuscitate orders, end-of-life decisions, withholding/withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments, medical futility and advanced directives. Eighty-eight articles, out of 305 examined, were analyzed and their data systematically reported and compared where possible. They consisted of studies, questionnaires and surveys answering the following questions: percentage of deaths of critical patients preceded by do-not-resuscitate orders, factors affecting the decision for do-not-resuscitate orders, people involved in this decision (patient, surrogates and medical staff) and how it was performed. Results: There is an evident gap between the North American use of standard and formal procedures compared with Europe. Second, they diverge in the role acknowledged to surrogates in the decisional process, as in Europe, restraints and reserves to accept surrogates as decision makers seem still strong and a paternalistic approach at the end-of-life is still present. Conclusion: Incidentally, despite the predictable differences between Europe and North America, concerns do exist about the actual extent of autonomy wished by patients and surrogates. It is important to highlight these findings, as the paternalistic attitude, too often negatively depicted, could be, according to the best medical practice, justified and more welcomed in some instances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1177-1186
Number of pages10
JournalActa Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006


  • Do-not-resuscitate orders
  • End-of-life decisions
  • Medical futility and advanced directives
  • Withholding/withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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