Skip to main content

01.12.2019 | Original research | Ausgabe 1/2019 Open Access

Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine 1/2019

Neurocritical care physicians’ doubt about whether to withdraw life-sustaining treatment the first days after devastating brain injury: an interview study

Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine > Ausgabe 1/2019
Annette Robertsen, Eirik Helseth, Jon Henrik Laake, Reidun Førde
Wichtige Hinweise

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.



Multilevel uncertainty exists in the treatment of devastating brain injury and variation in end-of-life decision-making is a concern. Cognitive and emotional doubt linked to making challenging decisions have not received much attention. The aim of this study was to explore physicians´ doubt related to decisions to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment within the first 72 h after devastating brain injury and to identify the strategies used to address doubt.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 neurocritical care physicians in a Norwegian trauma centre (neurosurgeons, intensivists and rehabilitation specialists) followed by a qualitative thematic analysis.


All physicians described feelings of doubt. The degree of doubt and how they dealt with it varied. Institutional culture, ethics climate and individual physicians´ values, experiences and emotions seemed to impact judgements and decisions. Common strategies applied by physicians across specialities when dealing with uncertainty and doubt were: 1. Provision of treatment trials 2. Using time as a coping strategy 3. Collegial counselling and interdisciplinary consensus seeking 4. Framing decisions as purely medical.


Decisions regarding life-sustaining treatment after devastating brain injury are crafted in a stepwise manner. Feelings of doubt are frequent and seem to be linked to the recognition of fallibility. Doubt can be seen as positive and can foster open-mindedness towards the view of others, which is one of the prerequisites for a good ethical climate. Doubt in this context tends to be mitigated by open interdisciplinary discussions acknowledging doubt as rational and a normal feature of complex decision-making.
Über diesen Artikel

Weitere Artikel der Ausgabe 1/2019

Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine 1/2019 Zur Ausgabe