Aim: We examined physicians’ perspectives on the mental capabilities of pediatric patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (UWS) and their attitudes towards limiting life-sustaining treatment (LST) in an international context.
Method: A questionnaire survey was conducted among 267 neuropediatricians, practicing in 65 countries. Comparisons were made according to the Human Development Index (HDI) of the countries. The Idler Index of Religiosity was applied to determine religiosity.
Results: Participants from countries with a very high HDI were generally more favorable to limiting LST (p < 0.001), specifically cardiopulmonary resuscitation (p = 0.021), intubation/ventilation (p = 0.014), hemodialysis/hemofiltration (p < 0.001), and antibiotic therapy (p < 0.001). Treatment costs that were too high had a weaker influence on their decisions (p < 0.001). Participants who found it never ethically justifiable to limit LST had a higher mean Idler Index of private (p = 0.001) and general (p = 0.020) religiosity and were less satisfied with treatment decisions (p < 0.001) and the communication during the process (p = 0.016).
Interpretation: The perspectives towards limiting LST for pediatric patients with UWS are markedly different between physicians from countries with very high and lower HDIs.