Iowa nurses' knowledge of living wills and perceptions of patient autonomy

Document Type


Peer Reviewed


Publication Date


NLM Title Abbreviation

J Prof Nurs

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of professional nursing

PubMed ID


DOI of Published Version


Start Page


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The principle of patient autonomy is well recognized in the nursing profession. This study extends the exploration of patient autonomy by examining nurses' knowledge about living wills. The questions addressed in this study included the following: (1) Were Iowa nurses aware of the living will statute? (2) What sources of information did nurses use to learn about this legislation? (3) What were nurses' perceptions of patients' rights? (4) What were nurses' perceptions of nurses' role involving living wills? (5) Were living wills followed? (6) If not followed, which factors contributed to the failure to honor a living will? and (7) Which communication mechanisms were used to alert nurses to a living will? A questionnaire was mailed to 10,000 actively licensed nurses in Iowa. Approximately 3,000 Iowa nurses responded to the questionnaire regarding Iowa living wills. Seventy per cent of the nurses knew that Iowa had living will legislation. No single educational source was a predominate choice for targeted information about the living will statute. Nurses were reluctant to suggest to patients that they should consider writing a living will. Nurses were also more willing to assume a passive role of suggesting that patients talk with relatives about the need for a living will but were less likely to be suggest that a patient write a living will for future health care treatment decisions. The majority of the nurses favored the patient having some control in health care treatment decisions. Three major factors were pertinent to the failure to follow a living will: family request, treating physician's refusal, and lack of information that the living will existed. The medical record was the primary means of communication regarding a living will. To enhance patient efforts at self-determination, nurses must recognize the advance directive legislation is available in their state and the potential impact that their nursing care may have on the implementation of the document.


Adult, Aged, Communication, Decision Making, Ethics, Nursing, Female, Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice, Humans, Information Dissemination, Iowa, Living Wills/legislation & jurisprudence, Male, Middle Aged, Nurse's Role, Nurses/psychology, Patient Advocacy/legislation & jurisprudence, Patient Rights, Personal Autonomy, Questionnaires, Role, Empirical Approach, Professional Patient Relationship

Published Article/Book Citation

Journal of professional nursing, 12:4 (1996) pp.245-252.

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