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Scand J Public Health. 1999 Mar;27(1):18-21.

Physicians' legal defensiveness and knowledge of medical law: comparing Denmark and the USA.

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  • 1Health Law and Policy Institute, University of Houston Law Center, Texas 77204-6398, USA.


The impact of legal factors on medical treatment decisions for dying patients has been studied in the USA for years. However, it is unknown how legal factors may affect similar medical decisions in other countries. This exploratory study compared responses between two populations of physicians, from Denmark (n = 62) and the USA (n = 301), who regularly treat terminally ill patients in tertiary care medical centers. We investigated whether Danish and US physicians differed significantly in their attitudes about the influence of law on treatment decisions for terminally ill patients. The Danish physicians demonstrated significantly better knowledge of medical law relevant to end-of-life treatment than did US physicians. The Danish sample also reported significantly lower levels of legal defensiveness than the US sample. These findings are consistent with our previous research showing that, among US physicians, legal defensiveness and knowledge of medical law are inversely related.

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