The Physician's Decision To Use Tube Feedings: The Role of the Family, the Living Will, and the Cruzan Decision

John W. Ely, Philip G. Peters, Steven Zweig, Nancy Elder, F. David Schneider

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19 Scopus citations


To determine the relative importance of factors influencing physicians to use tube feedings in patients lacking decision‐making capacity. Survey. Four hundred thirty‐nine members of the Missouri Academy of Family Physicians. Using a mailed questionnaire, physicians were asked for a decision about feeding tube placement in an 89‐year‐old man who was unable to swallow or communicate after a stroke. Changing the conditions of the scenario, we then evaluated the influence of patient age, duration of disability, a living will, the Cruzan decision, and family preferences on the physician's decision. After reading the initial case history, 47% of physicians opposed tube feedings. Physicians who were told that the patient signed a living will specifically excluding tube feedings were more likely to oppose tube feedings than those who were told that he signed only a standard living will (53% vs 42%; P = 0.02). Forty‐two percent of physicians who initially suggested a feeding tube changed their recommendation if the family opposed it. Sixty‐six percent of physicians who initially opposed a feeding tube changed their recommendation if the family “pushed” for it. Thirty‐three percent of physicians who initially opposed tube feedings under the living will scenario would favor tube feedings if the patient had not signed a living will. Twenty‐two percent of physicians who initially opposed tube feedings would change to favor them if the issue had arisen before the Cruzan decision. Among this group of physicians, there was no consensus on whether tube feedings should be initiated. However, it was found that the family's opinion was the most influential factor affecting the physician's recommendation about tube feedings. Most physicians endorsed family preferences for tube feedings even when this intervention was specifically opposed in the patient's living will.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-475
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 1992


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

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