Withholding Treatment From the Dying Patient: The Influence of Medical School on Students’ Attitudes

Aviad Rabinowich*, Iftach Sagy, Liane Rabinowich, Lior Zeller, Alan Jotkowitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: To determine motives and attitudes towards life-sustaining treatments (LSTs) by clinical and preclinical medical students. Methods: This was a scenario-based questionnaire that presented patients with a limited life expectancy. The survey was distributed among 455 medical students in preclinical and clinical years. Students were asked to rate their willingness to perform LSTs and rank the motives for doing so. The effect of medical education was then investigated after adjustment for age, gender, religion, religiosity, country of origin, and marital status. Results: Preclinical students had a significantly higher willingness to perform LSTs in all cases. This was observed in all treatments offered in cases of a metastatic oncologic patient and an otherwise healthy man after a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In the case of an elderly woman on long-term care, preclinical students had higher willingness to supply vasopressors but not perform an intubation, feed with a nasogastric tube, or treat with a continuous positive air-pressure ventilator. Both preclinical and clinical students had high willingness to perform resuscitation on a twelve-year-old boy with a TBI. Differences in motivation factors were also seen. Discussion: Preclinical students had a greater willingness to treat compared to clinical students in all cases and with most medical treatments offered. This is attributed mainly to changes along the medical curriculum. Changes in reasons for supplying LSTs were also documented.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Bioethical Inquiry
StateAccepted/In press - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioethics
  • End-of-life issues
  • Life-sustaining treatment
  • Medical education


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