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Lancet. 1996 Jul 6;348(9019):35-40.

Survey of British clinicians' views on management of patients in persistent vegetative state.

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Centre of Medical Law and Ethics, King's College London, Strand, UK.



The best care and management of patients in persistent vegetative state (PVS) has been the subject of sustained moral and legal debate for a number of years. However, the views of clinicians in the UK involved in caring for patients in PVS are largely unknown.


A postal questionnaire was sent to 1882 consultant members of the British Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Association of British Neurologists, the Society of British Neurosurgeons, and the British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine. Their views were sought on various aspects of the management and care of PVS, in particular the appropriateness of a decision not to treat and a decision to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH).


1027 doctors responded (55%) of whom 558 (54%) had experience of managing patients in PVS. Over 90% of responding doctors considered that it could be appropriate not to treat acute infections and other life-threatening conditions. 65% of doctors considered that withdrawal of ANH could be appropriate. About two-thirds of doctors who thought treatment-limiting decisions could be appropriate thought that such decisions could be considered with the first 12 months of the patient being in PVS. Despite recent case law, less than half the doctors responding to the survey thought that an advance directive made by the patient should have a decisive influence in determining treatment-limiting decisions. Most doctors would like decisions about withdrawing ANH to be made in conjunction with family members and in accordance with agreed guidelines but without the need to go to court.


There is a broad consensus among doctors that treatment-limiting decisions are sometimes appropriate for patients in PVS, irrespective of whether they have experience of the condition or of the specialty to which they belong. However, two thirds of doctors said that such decisions can be considered at a time earlier than that recommended by the British Medical Association. It is not clear why some doctors thought a decision not to treat could be appropriate while a decision to withdraw ANH would not be.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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