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Decision-making about artificial feeding in end-of-life care: literature review

Authors

  • Els Bryon,

    1. Els Bryon MSN RN Research Associate Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Catholic University of Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer, Leuven, Belgium
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  • Chris Gastmans,

    1. Chris Gastmans PhD Professor of Medical Ethics Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Catholic University of Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer, Leuven, Belgium
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  • Bernadette Dierckx De Casterlé

    1. Bernadette Dierckx de Casterlé PhD RN Associate Professor of Nursing Ethics Center for Health Services and Nursing Research, Catholic University of Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer, Leuven, Belgium
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E. Bryon: e-mail: els.bryon@med.kuleuven.be

Abstract

Title. Decision-making about artificial feeding in end-of-life care: literature review.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a review of nurses’ roles and their perceptions of these roles in decision-making processes surrounding artificial food and fluid administration in adult patients.

Background.  Of all caregivers, nurses have the closest and most trusting relationship with severely ill patients and their families during the entire end-of-life care process. As a result, nurses become closely involved in complex ethical decision-making processes concerning artificial administration of food or fluids for these patients.

Data sources.  We searched seven electronic databases (1990–2007) and examined the reference lists of relevant papers.

Review methods.  This mixed methods review was conducted with guidance of the United Kingdom Centre for Reviews and Dissemination guidelines on systematic reviews.

Results.  Although their direct impact is limited, nurses play a significant indirect role during decision-making processes. Because of their unique position, they often initiate decision-making processes, function as patient advocates and provide guidance, information and support to patients and families. Although nurses considered their role to be very valuable, they felt that their role was not always defined clearly or appreciated. Whether nurses experience decision-making processes positively depended on several contextual factors.

Conclusion.  Given their knowledge and practice skills, nurses are in a prime position to contribute valuably to decision-making processes. Nevertheless, they remain sidelined. For nurses to receive sufficient recognition, their decision-making tasks and responsibilities need to be clarified and made manifest to other participants.

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