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September 9, 1996

Advance Directives in UtahInformation From Death Certificates and Informants

Arch Intern Med. 1996;156(16):1862-1868. doi:10.1001/archinte.1996.00440150122014

Background:  Advance directives have been studied in different patient populations and institutions. Most reports have shown limited use and little medically observable effect. To our knowledge, no previous study has focused on the use of advance directives by individuals who have died or how their family members perceived the documents' effect.

Methods:  We contacted informants listed on Utah Death Certificates from 1992 to estimate the prevalence and effect of advance directives. Eighty-two percent of 1398 informants we contacted agreed to our telephone interview.

Results:  More than 50% of decedents reportedly completed an advance directive. Individuals older than 65 years (57.3%), women (58.1%), nursing home residents (63.4%), and hospice users (75.2%) were most likely to have had advance directives. Education, religion, religiosity, and location had no effect on prevalence. Most informants stated that advance directives had no effect on the decedent's care, but a minority felt they helped to limit treatment. Do-not-resuscitate orders were written more often for patients with advance directives. Feeding tubes were removed more often from decedents with living wills than from other decedents. Mechanical ventilatory support was not less frequent in patients with advance directives.

Conclusions:  Our study confirms others that found little evidence that advance directives affect life-sustaining treatments. In the infrequent situations when they apply, they may be more persuasive than family members in convincing physicians to limit treatment. We observed that survivors had 2 perceptions about advance directives, not emphasized in previous reports, that they seemed to limit treatment and to ease their burden of decision making.Arch Intern Med. 1996;156:1862-1868