Nurses’ Knowledge of Law at the End of Life and Implications for Practice: A Qualitative Study

Palliative Medicine, 34(4), pp. 524-532, 2020

26 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2020 Last revised: 10 Apr 2020

See all articles by Lindy Willmott

Lindy Willmott

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law

Ben White

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law

Patsy Yates

Queensland University of Technology

Geoffrey Mitchell

University of Queensland - Faculty of Medicine

David Currow

University of Technology Sydney (UTS)

Katrin Gerber

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Donella Piper

University of New England

Date Written: February 7, 2020

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Some patients do not receive adequate pain and symptom relief at the end of life, causing distress to patients, families and healthcare professionals. It is unclear whether undertreatment of symptoms occurs, in part, because of nurses' concerns about legal and/or disciplinary repercussions if the patient dies after medication is administered.

AIM: The aim was to explore nurses' experiences and knowledge of the law relating to the provision of end-of-life pain and symptom relief.

DESIGN: Semi-structured interviews with nurses were assessed using a six-stage hybrid thematic analysis technique.

SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Four face-to-face and 21 telephone interviews were conducted with nurses who routinely prescribed and/or administered pain and symptom relief to patients approaching the end of their lives in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia.

RESULTS: While many nurses had no personal experiences with legal or professional repercussions after a patient had died, the fear of hastening death and being held accountable was frequently discussed and regarded as relevant to the provision of inadequate pain and symptom relief. Concerns included potential civil or criminal liability and losing one's job, registration or reputation. Two-thirds of participants believed that pain relief was sometimes withheld because of these legal concerns. Less than half of the interviewed nurses demonstrated knowledge of the doctrine of double effect, the legal protection for health professionals who provide end-of-life pain and symptom relief.

CONCLUSION: Education is urgently required to strengthen nurses' knowledge of the legal protections supporting the provision of appropriate palliative medication, thereby improving their clinical practice with end-of-life patients.

Keywords: health law, health law research, medical law, nursing research, nursing, palliative medicine, palliative care, end of life law, end of life care, end of life decisions

JEL Classification: K10, K32, I10, I18

Suggested Citation

Willmott, Lindy and White, Ben and Yates, Patsy and Mitchell, Geoffrey and Currow, David and Gerber, Katrin and Piper, Donella, Nurses’ Knowledge of Law at the End of Life and Implications for Practice: A Qualitative Study (February 7, 2020). Palliative Medicine, 34(4), pp. 524-532, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3543803

Lindy Willmott

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, QLD 4000
Australia

HOME PAGE: http://staff.qut.edu.au/staff/willmott/

Ben White (Contact Author)

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, QLD 4000
Australia

HOME PAGE: http://staff.qut.edu.au/staff/whiteb/

Patsy Yates

Queensland University of Technology ( email )

2 George Street
Brisbane, Queensland 4000
Australia

Geoffrey Mitchell

University of Queensland - Faculty of Medicine ( email )

Brisbane, Queensland
Australia

David Currow

University of Technology Sydney (UTS) ( email )

15 Broadway, Ultimo
PO Box 123
Sydney, NSW 2007
Australia

Katrin Gerber

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Donella Piper

University of New England ( email )

11 Hills Beach Road
Biddeford, ME 04005
United States

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