Medical students' attitudes regarding the use of life-sustaining treatments for themselves and for elderly persons

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This study investigated students' wishes regarding the use of life-sustaining treatments (LST) in different health conditions compared with their evaluations of the wishes of elderly people, and with reports of a group of elderly people about themselves. Data were collected from two consecutive classes of first year medical students (n = 101), and a random sample of Israeli elderly aged 70+ (n = 987) who responded to fixed-choice questions regarding their will to live and wishes for three kinds of LST in a number of hypothetical illness conditions. The students were also asked to assess elderly's wishes. Students ranked the will to live of elderly persons significantly lower than their own. The elderly ranked their will to live significantly lower than did the students, but higher than the students assumed about them, indicating that although the will to live is weaker among older people, it is stronger than young persons believe. With regard to the use of LST, students believe that old people want less LST than themselves, but the elderly want even less LST than assumed by the students. The best predictors of students' wishes for themselves were fear of dying and religiosity. Fear of dying, the students' selfesteem and religiosity were the best predictors of their evaluations of the elderly's wishes. The results indicate that both the elderly and the students have a relatively strong will to live, but this desire is dependent on quality of life. The implications of this study for medical education are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-474
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - 1 Feb 1998


  • Doctor-patient relations
  • Elderly
  • Life-sustaining treatments
  • Medical education
  • Medical students
  • Will to live


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