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The views and opinions expressed in our blog series are those of the authors and are not necessarily supported by CareSearch, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health.
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. Dr Katrin Gerber, Professor Lindy Willmott, Professor Ben White, and Distinguished Professor Patsy Yates from Queensland University of Technology discuss the findings from their research and interviews with nurses from different clinical backgrounds and settings about their concerns when providing pain and symptom relief to patients near the end of life.
Health professionals need to know the law that governs withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment. Law is not at the centre of the clinical encounter, but it is part of the regulatory framework that governs these decisions. Failure to know and follow the law puts health professionals and their patients at risk. But we know there are gaps in health professionals’ legal knowledge in this area and this is not surprising either, given how complex and difficult this field of law is.