BACKGROUND: The best care and management of patients in persistent vegetative state (PVS) has been the subject of sustained moral and legal debate for a number of years. However, the views of specialist doctors in Belgium involved in the care for patients in PVS are largely unknown. METHODS: A postal questionnaire was sent to 403 members of Belgian Societies of Neurosurgeons, Neurologists and Rehabilitation Doctors. Their views were sought on various aspects of the management and care of PVS, focusing on the issue of the appropriateness of non-treatment and the withdrawal of artificial feeding. FINDINGS: Of the 208 doctors who completed the questionnaires (52%), 172 (83%) indicated that they had been involved in the management of a patient in PVS. 88% of the responding doctors thought it was sometimes appropriate not to treat acute infections or other life-threatening conditions in a PVS patient. Fifty-six percent considered it sometimes appropriate to withdraw artificial feeding. About three-quarter of physicians who considered both treatment-limiting decisions appropriate thought that such decisions could be considered within the first year of the patient being in PVS. Forty percent accorded a decisive influence to an advance directive and only a small number of doctors considered the influence of the patient's family in the decision to withdraw artificial feeding as decisive. Over 80% of the clinicians disagreed with the view that each decision about withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) should come before the courts. INTERPRETATION: Doctors in Belgium seem to be more reluctant to withdraw artificial feeding than not to treat acute infections or other life-threatening conditions in PVS. The reason for this difference appeared to be connected with the moral as well as with the clinical content of the decision. The broad variety of answers on the interval when the vegetative state is to be regarded as permanent and when treatment-limiting decisions are appropriate, could be due to the lack of official guidelines in Belgium. There seems however to be no consensus about a future policy in Belgium for making decisions about the withdrawal of ANH.