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News briefs

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Unnecessary EOL treatment widespread

University of New South Wales reviewers, reporting in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care, have found that more than a third of elderly patients hospitalised at the end of their life received “invasive and potentially harmful medical treatments”. The analysis of 38 studies over 2 decades, based on data from 1.2 million patients, bereaved relatives and clinicians in 10 countries including Australia, found that the practice of doctors initiating excessive medical or surgical treatment on elderly patients in the last 6 months of their life continues in hospitals worldwide. Dr Magnolia Cardona-Morrell, who led the research at UNSW’s Simpson Centre for Health Services Research, said rapid advances in medical technology have fuelled unrealistic community expectations of the healing power of hospital doctors and their ability to ensure patients’ survival. “It is not unusual for family members to refuse to accept the fact that their loved one is naturally dying of old age and its associated complications and so they pressure doctors to attempt heroic interventions,” Dr Cardona-Morrell said. “Doctors also struggle with the uncertainty of the duration of the dying trajectory and are torn by the ethical dilemma of delivering what they were trained to do, save lives, versus respecting the patient’s right to die with dignity.”…