Palliative care nursing involvement in end-of-life decision-making: qualitative secondary analysis

Pablo Hernández-Marrero, Emília Fradique, Sandra Martins Pereira*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Nurses are the largest professional group in healthcare and those who make more decisions. In 2014, the Committee on Bioethics of the Council of Europe launched the “Guide on the decision-making process regarding medical treatment in end-of-life situations” (hereinafter, Guide), aiming at improving decision-making processes and empowering professionals in making end-of-life decisions. The Guide does not mention nurses explicitly. Objectives: To analyze the ethical principles most valued by nurses working in palliative care when making end-of-life decisions and investigate if they are consistent with the framework and recommendations of the Guide; to identify what disputed/controversial issues are more frequent in these nurses’ current end-of-life care practices. Design: Qualitative secondary analysis. Participants/context: Three qualitative datasets including 32 interviews from previous studies with nurses working in palliative care in Portugal. Ethical consideration: Ethical approval was obtained from the Ethics Research Lab of the Instituto de Bioética (Ethics Research Lab of the Institute of Bioethics) (Ref.04.2015). Ethical procedures are thoroughly described. Findings: All participant nurses referred to autonomy as an ethical principle paramount in end-of-life decision-making. They were commonly involved in end-of-life decision-making. Palliative sedation and communication were the most mentioned disputed/controversial issues. Discussion: Autonomy was highly valued in end-of-life care and decision-making. Nurses expressed major concerns in assessing patients’ preferences, wishes, and promoting advance care planning. Nurses working in palliative care in Portugal were highly involved in end-of-life decision-making. These processes embraced a collective, inclusive approach. Palliative sedation was the most mentioned disputed issue, which is aligned with previous findings. Communication also emerged as a sensitive ethical issue; it is surprising, however, that only three nurses referred to it. Conclusion: While the Guide does not explicitly mention nurses in its content, this study shows that nurses working in palliative care in Portugal are involved in these processes. Further research is needed on nurses’ involvement and practices in end-of-life decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1680-1695
Number of pages16
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • Decision-making
  • End-of-life
  • End-of-life decisions
  • Ethical principles
  • Guidelines
  • Nnursing ethics
  • Palliative care
  • Qualitative secondary analysis


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