Dignity in end-of-life care: Results of a national survey of U.S. physicians

Ryan M. Antiel, Farr A. Curlin, Katherine M. James, Daniel P. Sulmasy, Jon C. Tilburt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Context: Debates persist about the relevance of "dignity" as an ethical concept in U.S. health care, especially in end-of-life care. Objectives: To describe the attitudes and beliefs regarding the usefulness and meaning of the concept of dignity and to examine judgments about a clinical scenario in which dignity might be relevant. Methods: Two thousand practicing U.S. physicians, from all specialties, were mailed a survey. Main measures included physicians' judgments about an end-of-life clinical scenario (criterion variable), attitudes about the concept of dignity (predictors), and their religious characteristics (predictors). Results: Responses were received from 1032 eligible physicians (54%). Nine (90%) of 10 physicians reported that dignity was relevant to their practice. After controlling for age, gender, region, and specialty, physicians who judged that the case patient had either some dignity or full dignity, and who agreed that dignity is given by a creator, were all positively associated with believing that the patient's life was worth living (odds ratio [OR] 10.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] 5.8-17.8, OR 20.5, 95% CI 11.4-36.8, OR 4.7, 95% CI 3.1-7.0, respectively). Respondents who strongly agreed that "all living humans have the same amount of dignity" were also more likely to believe that the patient's life was worth living (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.2-2.7). Religious characteristics also were associated with believing that the case patient's life was worth living (OR 4.1, 95% CI 2.4-7.2, OR 3.2, 95% CI 1.6-6.3, OR 9.2, 95% CI 4.3-19.5, respectively). Conclusion: U.S. physicians view the concept of dignity as useful. Those views are associated with their judgments about common end-of-life scenarios in which dignity concepts may be relevant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-339
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of pain and symptom management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Human dignity
  • end-of-life care
  • physician religiosity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Dignity in end-of-life care: Results of a national survey of U.S. physicians'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this