For all of the emphasis on quality improvement—as well as the acknowledged overlap between assessment of the quality of healthcare services and clinical ethics—the quality of clinical ethics consultation has received scant attention, especially in terms of empirical measurement. Recognizing this need, the second edition of Core Competencies for Health Care Ethics Consultation identified four domains of ethics quality: (1) ethicality, (2) stakeholders’ satisfaction, (3) resolution of the presenting conflict/dilemma, and (4) education that translates into knowledge. This study is the (...) first, to our knowledge, to directly measure all of these domains. Here we describe the quality improvement process undertaken at a tertiary care academic medical center, as well as the tools developed to measure the quality of ethics consultation, which include post-consultation satisfaction surveys and weekly case conferences. The information gained through these tools helps to improve not only the process of ethics consultation, but also the measurement and assurance of quality. (shrink)
Clinical simulation using standardized patients has become standard in medical education—and is now being incorporated into some graduate programs in bioethics—for both formative and summative evaluation. In most hospitals, though, clinical ethics consultation is done by the ethics committee (or a subset of it). This study is the first, to our knowledge, to examine the effectiveness of standardized patient simulation in training hospital ethics committees to deal with ethically complex and emotionally fraught clinical situations. Following a substantial revision of the (...) institution’s nonbeneficial treatment policy, ethics committee members underwent a simulation to determine whether a specific requested treatment should be withheld on the basis of futility. Pre- and postintervention surveys showed improvement in all domains, although the small sample size limited the power of the study, with only one measure showing a statistically significant difference. An interesting incidental finding was that one-quarter of committee members voted against a determination of futility, even though the case clearly met the definition set forth in the policy. This highlights the emotional challenges in implementing an ethically rigorous, unanimously accepted policy that ultimately determines the timing and manner of a patient’s death. (shrink)
A comprehensive analysis of ethical topics in palliative care, combining clinical experience and philosophical rigor. A broad array of topics are explored from historical, legal, clinical, and ethical perspectives, offering both the seasoned clinician and interested lay reader a thorough examination of the complex ethical issues facing patients suffering from life-threatening illness.
Background Because opioids can suppress respiratory drive, the principle of double effect (PDE) has been used to justify their use for terminally ill patients. Recent studies, however, suggest that the risk of respiratory depression in typical end-of-life (EOL) situations may be overstated and that heightened concern for this rare occurrence can lead to inadequate treatment of pain. The purpose of this study is to examine the role of the PDE in medical school ethics education, with specific reference to its potential (...) impact on pain management at EOL. Method After obtaining institutional review board approval, an electronic survey was sent to ethics educators at every allopathic medical school in the USA. Results One-third of ethics educators felt that opioids were ‘likely’ to cause significant respiratory depression that could hasten death. Educators' opinions of opioid effects did not influence their view of the relevance of the PDE, with approximately 70% deeming it relevant to EOL care. Only 15% of ethics educators believed that associating the PDE with opioid use might discourage clinicians from optimally treating pain, out of concern for respiratory depression. Conclusion This study demonstrates that a significant minority of ethics educators believe, contrary to current evidence, that opioids are ‘likely’ to cause significant respiratory depression that could hasten death in terminally ill patients. Yet, many of those who do not feel this is likely still rely on the PDE to justify this possibility, potentially (and unknowingly) contributing to clinical misperceptions and underutilisation of opioids at EOL. (shrink)
As the population in the United States gets older, more people suffer from dementia, which often causes neuropsychiatric symptoms such as agitation and paranoia. This can lead patients to refuse medications, prompting consideration of covert administration (that is, concealing medication in food or drink). While many condemn this practice as paternalistic, deceptive, and potentially harmful, the end result of assuming the “moral high ground” can be increased suffering for patients and families. This article addresses common criticisms of covert medication and (...) presents a detailed algorithm by which to determine whether the practice is ethically permissible in specific cases. It also explores why so little attention has been paid in the U.S. to this presumably common practice, and reviews professional statements from Europe that endorse the practice. Finally, it presents a compelling argument for the role of Ulysses clauses in advance care planning, not only for patients with psychiatric illness but also for those who may suffer from dementia, which is far more common. (shrink)
Typically, the determination of death by neurological criteria follows a very specific protocol. An apnea test is performed with further confirmation as necessary, and then mechanical ventilation is withdrawn with the consent of the family after they have had an opportunity to “say goodbye,” and at such a time to permit organ retrieval (with authorization of the patient or consent of the next of kin). Such a process maximizes transparency and ensures generalizability. In exceptional circumstances, however, it may be necessary (...) to deviate from this protocol in order to spare family members unnecessary suffering and to reduce moral distress felt by clinical staff. It may also be appropriate, we argue, to refrain from even inquiring about organ donation when the next-of-kin is not only certain to refuse, but lacks the decision-making capacity to potentially consent. The case described in this article calls into question generally reliable assumptions about determination of death by neurological criteria, where the best the clinical team could do for the patient and his family was “the least bad option.”. (shrink)
Many patients believe that cardiopulmonary resuscitation is more likely to be successful than it really is in clinical practice. Even when working with accurate information, some nevertheless remain resolute in demanding maximal treatment. They maintain that even if survival after cardiac arrest with CPR is extremely low, the fact remains that it is still greater than the probability of survival after cardiac arrest without CPR. Without realising it, this line of reasoning is strikingly similar to Pascal’s Wager, a Renaissance-era argument (...) for accepting the proposition for God’s existence. But while the original argument is quite logical—if not universally compelling—the modern variant makes several erroneous assumptions. The authors here present a case of a patient who unwittingly appeals to Pascal’s Wager to explain his request for maximal treatment, in order to highlight the crucial divergences from the original Wager. In understanding the faulty assumptions inherent in the application of Pascal’s Wager to code status decisions—and identifying the underlying motivations which the Wager serves to confirm—providers can better ensure that the true values and preferences of patients are upheld. (shrink)
: Health care reform is bottled up. Socially responsible physicians, forced to curtail care to uninsured patients, should respond with organized, open defiance, by billing the costs of the care to the accounts of patients covered under Medicaid or Medicare. Reverse cost-shifting: maybe it could work, certainly it would be justified.
Given narrow operating margins, health care organizations are increasingly relying on philanthropy to fund operations. Since individuals provide the majority of philanthropic support, many organizations have expanded their “grateful patient fundraising” programs to include current inpatients, both established donors as well as persons of wealth. While this is legally permissible under HIPAA, it raises substantial ethical concerns for potential coercion of vulnerable patients, as well as unequal care stemming from preferential treatment and provided “amenities.” While some have drawn the analogy (...) to the additional comforts provided to first-class airline passengers, this analogy is flawed because of the potential clinical impact of the opportunities and services provided, especially to merely potential donors. From an ethical perspective, such programs should only provide non-clinical amenities to established donors, and at the same time strive for maximal transparency whereby all patients are assured of equal care and are fully informed of the specific benefits associated with any potential donation. (shrink)
Health care reform is bottled up. Socially responsible physicians, forced to curtail care to uninsured patients, should respond with organized, open defiance, by billing the costs of the care to the accounts of patients covered under Medicaid or Medicare. Reverse cost‐shifting: maybe it could work, certainly it would be justified.