The impact of the Rasouli decision: a Survey of Canadian intensivists
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INTRODUCTION: In a landmark 2013 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled that the withdrawal of life support in certain circumstances is a treatment requiring patient or substitute decision maker (SDM) consent. How intensive care unit (ICU) physicians perceive this ruling is unknown. OBJECTIVES: To determine physician knowledge of and attitudes towards the SCC decision, as well as the self-reported changes in practice attributed to the decision. METHODS: We surveyed intensivists at university hospitals across Canada. We used a knowledge test and Likert-scale questions to measure respondent knowledge of and attitudes towards the ruling. We used vignettes to assess decision making in cases of intractable physician-SDM conflict over the management of patients with very poor prognoses. We compared management choices pre-SCC decision versus post-SCC decision versus the subjective, respondent-defined most appropriate choice. Responses were compared across predefined subgroups. We performed qualitative analysis on free-text responses. RESULTS: We received 82 responses (response rate=42%). Respondents reported providing high levels of self-defined inappropriate treatment. Although most respondents reported no change in practice, there was a significant overall shift towards higher intensity and less subjectively appropriate management after the SCC decision. Attitudes to the SCC decision and approaches to disputes over end-of-life (EoL) care in the ICU were highly variable. There were no significant differences among predefined subgroups. CONCLUSIONS: Many Canadian ICU physicians report providing a higher intensity of treatment, and less subjectively appropriate treatment, in situations of dispute over EoL care after the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling in Cuthbertson versus Rasouli.
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