Exploring the perceptions of physicians, caregivers and families towards artificial nutrition and hydration for people in permanent vegetative state: How can a photo-elicitation method help?
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AbstractThe question of withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration from people in a permanent vegetative state sparks considerable ethical and legal debate. Therefore, understanding the elements that influence such a decision is crucial. However, exploring perceptions of artificial nutrition and hydration is methodologically challenging for several reasons. First, because of the emotional state of the professionals and family members, who are facing an extremely distressing situation; second, because this question mirrors representations linked to a deep-rooted fear of dying of hunger and thirst; and third, because of taboos surrounding death. We sought to determine the best method to explore such complex situations in depth. This article aims to assess the relevance of the photo-elicitation interview method to analyze the perceptions and attitudes of health professionals and families of people in a permanent vegetative state regarding artificial nutrition and hydration. The photo-elicitation interview method consists in inserting one or more photographs into a research interview. An original set of 60 photos was built using Google Images and participants were asked to choose photos (10 maximum) and talk about them. The situations of 32 patients were explored in 23 dedicated centers for people in permanent vegetative state across France. In total, 138 interviews were conducted with health professionals and family members. We found that the photo-elicitation interview method 1) was well accepted by the participants and allowed them to express their emotions constructively, 2) fostered narration, reflexivity and introspection, 3) offered a sufficient "unusual angle" to allow participants to go beyond stereotypes and habits of thinking, and 4) can be replicated in other research areas. The use of visual methods currently constitutes an expanding area of research and this study stressed that this is of special interest to enhance research among populations facing end-of-life and ethical issues.