Airedale NHS Trust v Bland establishes three principles among which is the controversial idea that people in a PVS, though not dying, have no best interests and no meaningful life. Accordingly, it is argued, they may have their food and fluids, whether delivered by tube or manually, removed, with the result that they die. Laing challenges this view arguing that not only is this bad medical science, it is unjustly discriminatory and at odds with our duties to the severely disabled. (...) Laing highlights research by Keith Andrews et al and points out that Andrew Devine, in the same Hillsborough disaster, woke up some years after Tony Bland was decided.(Post script) Laing argues elsewhere that after the Mental Capacity Act 2005 the case has become a dangerous springboard for new third parties' to require the removal of food and fluids from the vulnerable incapacitated. (shrink)
The Liverpool Care Pathway is intended as a palliative care regime at the end of life. Even its critics agree that certain of its recommendations may be useful and appropriate. Additionally, critics are aware that there are occasions when death may be a foreseen side effect of perfectly licit palliation whose primary ends are not homicidal at all. It is evident that treatment may be over-expensive, over-burdensome or simply futile. There is no suggestion that critics of the Pathway adhere (...) irrationally to what is known in medical ethics as the error of vitalism, the commitment to excessive, extraordinary or futile treatment, or over-burdensome care at the end of life. However, to ask whether treatment is futile, over-burdensome or over-expensive is very different to the discriminatory question about the futility, burden or expense of a frail and vulnerable patient. The sedation-dehydration aspect of the Pathway attracts much proper opposition. Doctors and families have found that those on the Pathway recovered when they intervened to take the patient off it. Senior medics have stepped forward, in the face of managerial opposition to argue that it is often impossible to know with certainty whether a person is imminently dying. One problem with the Pathway is that where a patient is misdiagnosed as terminal, the combination of morphine and dehydration has a self-fulfilling character and is likely to undermine a patient’s capacity. Persistent dehydration of even fit and healthy sedated patients will kill them. This was the difficulty highlighted by concerned medical professionals many years ago. The independent inquiry ordered in response to Freedom of Information Act requests performed in 2012 demonstrating a staggering increase in the number of people dying on the Pathway once it was financially incentivised needs to ensure certain investigations take place. What is needed, however, is not a whitewash but an independent inquiry with all interests declared and data sets interrogated and collated. These will cover a time-series medical history of each anonymised patient on the Pathway, duration until death, information about interventions provided during the period, monthly raw data from each trust, hospice or care home, medical histories, removals from the Pathway, information about journals that were corrected once a patient recovered, demographic data, location information and an audit trail of all data management. (shrink)
This paper explores definitions of death from the perspectives of several world and indigenous religions, with practical application for health care providers in relation to end of life decisions and organ and tissue donation after death. It provides background material on several traditions and explains how different religions derive their conclusions for end of life decisions from the ethical guidelines they proffer.
The recent revelation that the rolling out of the Liverpool Care Pathway as the NHS National End of Life Care strategy in 2008 had been financially incentivised and implemented with astonishing compliance emerged as a thought-provoking development. Many of us have been warning for years of the financial, political and research interests that there are in institutionalising sedation-and-dehydration regimes, and then, inevitably, medical homicide. Freedom of Information Act requests exposed the millions of pounds that have been paid for the implementation (...) of this national end-of-life care strategy. Much more interestingly, it showed that some hospital trusts had been paid these funds for ensuring that up to two thirds of all deaths were Pathway deaths. Given that the very livelihood of health professionals was being judged against the new Commissioning for Quality Innovation (CQUIN) ’Gold Standards Framework’, professional observance of the pathway was predictable. The revelation of management targets, despite the best efforts of the regime’s proponents to play them down, radically alters the debate. Unlike education or housing targets, these ones are potentially homicidal. (shrink)
The chief executive of the Law Society proposes that the Mental Capacity Bill is a progressive initiative enhancing personal autonomy. Laing replies to this by showing that the Bill, for from enhancinging personal autonomy explodes it by inviting homicide by unaccountable third parties, allowing non-therapeutic research and organ-removal without consent and creating a secret and unaccountable court with a lethal power over the vulnerable incapacitated.
This paper examines the few, but important legal and coronial cases concerning withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment from severely disabled or critically impaired infants in Australia. Although sparse in number, the judgements should influence common clinical practices based on assessment of “best interests” but these have not yet been adopted. In particular, although courts have discounted assessment of “quality of life” as a legitimate component of determination of “best interests,” this remains a prominent component of clinical guidelines. In (...) addition, this paper highlights the lack of uniform clinical guidelines available to medical professionals and parents in Australia when making end-of-life decisions for severely ill infants. Thus, it is argued here that there is a need for an overarching prescriptive uniform framework or set of guidelines in end-of-life decision-making for impaired infants. This would encourage greater transparency, consistency, and some degree of objectivity in an area that often appears subjective. (shrink)
Ethical analyses, professional guidelines and legal decisions support the equivalence thesis for life-sustaining treatment: if it is ethical to withhold treatment, it would be ethical to withdraw the same treatment. In this paper we explore reasons why the majority of medical professionals disagree with the conclusions of ethical analysis. Resource allocation is considered by clinicians to be a legitimate reason to withhold but not to withdraw intensive care treatment. We analyse five arguments in favour of non-equivalence, (...) and find only relatively weak reasons to restrict rationing to withholding treatment. On the contrary, resource allocation provides a strong argument in favour of equivalence: non-equivalence causes preventable death in critically ill patients. We outline two proposals for increasing equivalence in practice: (1) reduction of the mortality threshold for treatment withdrawal, (2) time-limited trials of intensive care. These strategies would help to move practice towards more rational treatment limitation decisions. (shrink)
BackgroundEnd-of-life decisions remain a hotly debated issue in many European countries and the acceptance in the general population can act as an important anchor point in these discussions. Previous studies on determinants of the acceptance of end-of-life interventions in the general population have not systematically assessed whether determinants differ between withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment and euthanasia.MethodsA large, representative survey of the Austrian adult population conducted in 2014 included items on WLPT and EUT. We constructed the following categorical outcome: rejection (...) of both WLPT and EUT, approval of WLPT but rejection of EUT, and approval of both WLPT and EUT. The influence of socio-demographics, personal experiences, and religious and socio-cultural orientations on the three levels of approval were assessed via multinomial logistic regression analysis.ResultsHigher education and stronger socio-cultural liberal orientations increased the likelihood of approving both WLPT and EUT; personal experience with end-of-life care increased only the likelihood of approval of WLPT; and religiosity decreased approval of EUT only.ConclusionThis study found evidence for both shared and different determinants for the acceptance of WLPT and EUT. (shrink)
The Jewish religious tradition summons its adherents to save life. For religious Jews preservation of life is the ultimate religious commandment. At the same time Jewish law recognizes that the agony of a moribund person may not be stretched. When the time to die has come this has to be respected. The process of dying should not needlessly be prolonged. We discuss the position of two prominent Orthodox Jewish authorities – the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi J David Bleich (...) – towards the role of life-sustaining treatment in end-of-life care. From the review, the characteristic halachic and heterogeneous character of Jewish ethical reasoning appears. The specificity of Jewish dealing with ethical dilemmas in health care indicates the importance for contemporary healthcare professionals of providing care which is sensitive to a patient’s culture and worldview. (shrink)
Representatives from eight European countries compared the legal, ethical and professional settings within which decision making for neonates takes place. When it comes to limiting treatment there is general agreement across all countries that overly aggressive treatment is to be discouraged. Nevertheless, strong emphasis has been placed on the need for compassionate care even where cure is not possible. Where a child will die irrespective of medical intervention, there is widespread acceptance of the practice of limiting aggressive (...) class='Hi'>treatment or alleviating suffering even if death may be hastened as a result. Where the infant could be saved but the future outlook is bleak there is more debate, but only two countries have tested the courts with such cases. When it comes to the active intentional ending of life, the legal position is standard across Europe; it is prohibited. However, recognising those intractable situations where death may be lingering and unpleasant, Dutch paediatricians have reported that they do sometimes assist babies to die with parental consent. Two cases have been tried through the courts and recent official recommendations have set out standards by which such actions may be assessed. (shrink)
Religion is an important element of end-of-life care on the paediatric intensive care unit with religious belief providing support for many families and for some staff. However, religious claims used by families to challenge cessation of aggressive therapies considered futile and burdensome by a wide range of medical and lay people can cause considerable problems and be very difficult to resolve. While it is vital to support families in such difficult times, we are increasingly concerned that deeply held belief in (...) religion can lead to children being potentially subjected to burdensome care in expectation of ‘miraculous’ intervention. We reviewed cases involving end-of-life decisions over a 3-year period. In 186 of 203 cases in which withdrawal or limitation of invasive therapy was recommended, agreement was achieved. However, in the 17 remaining cases extended discussions with medical teams and local support mechanisms did not lead to resolution. Of these cases, 11 (65%) involved explicit religious claims that intensive care should not be stopped due to expectation of divine intervention and complete cure together with conviction that overly pessimistic medical predictions were wrong. The distribution of the religions included Protestant, Muslim, Jewish and Roman Catholic groups. Five of the 11 cases were resolved after meeting religious community leaders; one child had intensive care withdrawn following a High Court order, and in the remaining five, all Christian, no resolution was possible due to expressed expectations that a ‘miracle’ would happen. (shrink)
Definition of the problem: The report supplies the national part of a European survey in which doctors that are involved in the treatment of patients in `Persistent Vegetative State' (PVS) are being interviewed. The questions concern decision-situations the doctors are frequently confronted with in the treatment of PVS-patients. The questionnaire is designed as a decisiontree in order to bring about the exact delineations that govern the decisions. Therefore the result of the survey only portrays which delineations are in (...) fact being accepted (and does not allow any conclusion concerning which norms should guide the decisions). Whether these factual delineations correspond to ethical-normative criteria that derive from guiding principles – such as human dignity – is being discussed in the part reflecting on the survey. It is crucial to an adequate interpretation of the survey results to keep in mind that the doctors were not being asked about what they actually did in the situations described; the survey was designed to bring about what the doctors' basic attitudes towards the problems are.Arguments: The reason this methodological approach to the problem was chosen is that an ethical evaluation can only take place when the action-guiding convictions of the agents concerned are known. The goal of the survey was to make a provisional orientation concerning the basic attitudes possible. Compared to other countries taking part in, the survey result in Germany confirms the hypotheses that doctors from different European countries – concerning the decisions of withdrawingtreatment or withholding treatment – are guided by different basic attitudes.Conclusion: As it has become apparent that important national differences concerning the action-guided attitudes of the doctors exist, it would not be advisable to recommend that European guidelines for all countries should be set up for such cases. The decisions taken depend on the guiding ethical assumptions; they can only be decisions for the very case they were derived at. (shrink)
Research questions and backgroundThis study explores a highly controversial issue of medical care in Germany: the decision to withhold or withdraw mechanical ventilation in critically ill patients. It analyzes difficulties in making these decisions and the physicians’ uncertainty in understanding the German terminology of Sterbehilfe, which is used in the context of treatment limitation. Used in everyday language, the word Sterbehilfe carries connotations such as helping the patient in the dying process or helping the patient to enter the dying (...) process. Yet, in the legal and ethical discourse Sterbehilfe indicates several concepts: (1) treatment limitation, i.e., withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment (passive Sterbehilfe), (2) the use of medication for symptom control while taking into account the risk of hastening the patient’s death (indirekte Sterbehilfe), and (3) measures to deliberately terminate the patient’s life (aktive Sterbehilfe). The terminology of Sterbehilfe has been criticized for being too complex and misleading, particularly for practical purposes. Materials and methods An exploratory study based on qualitative interviews was conducted with 28 physicians from nine medical intensive care units in tertiary care hospitals in the German federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The method of data collection was a problem-centered, semi-structured interview using two authentic clinical case examples. In order to shed light on the relation between the physicians’ concepts and the ethical and legal frames of reference, we analyzed their way of using the terms passive and aktive Sterbehilfe. Results Generally, the physicians were more hesitant in making decisions to withdraw rather than withhold mechanical ventilation. Almost half of them assumed a categorical prohibition to withdraw any mechanical ventilation and more than one third felt that treatment ought not to be withdrawn at all. Physicians showed specific uncertainty about classifying the withdrawal of mechanical ventilation as passive Sterbehilfe, and had difficulties understanding that terminating ventilation is not basically illegal, but the permissibility of withdrawal depends on the situation. Conclusions The physicians’ knowledge and skills in interpreting clinical ethical dilemmas require specific improvement on the one hand; on the other hand, the terms passive and aktive Sterbehilfe are less clear than desirable and not as easy to use in clinical practice. Fear of making unjustified or illegal decisions may motivate physicians to continue (even futile) treatment. Physicians strongly opt for more open discussion about end-of-life care to allow for discontinuation of futile treatment and to reduce conflict. (shrink)
Conventional medical ethics and the law draw a bright line distinguishing the permitted practice of withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from the forbidden practice of active euthanasia by means of a lethal injection. When clinicians justifiably withdraw life-sustaining treatment, they allow patients to die but do not cause, intend, or have moral responsibility for, the patient's death. In contrast, physicians unjustifiably kill patients whenever they intentionally administer a lethal dose of medication. We argue that the differential moral assessment of (...) these two practices is based on a series of moral fictions – motivated false beliefs that erroneously characterize withdrawing life-sustaining treatment in order to bring accepted end-of-life practices in line with the prevailing moral norm that doctors must never kill patients. When these moral fictions are exposed, it becomes apparent that conventional medical ethics relating to end-of-life decisions is radically mistaken. (shrink)
Recent studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging of patients in a vegetative state have raised the possibility that such patients retain some degree of consciousness. In this paper, the ethical implications of such findings are outlined, in particular in relation to decisions about withdrawing life-sustaining treatment. It is sometimes assumed that if there is evidence of consciousness, treatment should not be withdrawn. But, paradoxically, the discovery of consciousness in very severely brain-damaged patients may provide more reason to (...) let them die. Although functional neuroimaging is likely to play an increasing role in the assessment of patients in a vegetative state, caution is needed in the interpretation of neuroimaging findings. (shrink)
Predictions of poor prognosis for critically ill patients may become self-fulfilling if life-sustaining treatment or resuscitation is subsequently withheld on the basis of that prediction. This paper outlines the epistemic and normative problems raised by self-fulfilling prophecies (SFPs) in intensive care. Where predictions affect outcome, it can be extremely difficult to ascertain the mortality rate for patients if all treatment were provided. SFPs may lead to an increase in mortality for cohorts of patients predicted to have poor prognosis, (...) they may lead doctors to feel causally responsible for the deaths of their patients, and they may compromise honest communication with patients and families about prognosis. However, I argue that the self-fulfilling prophecy is inevitable when life-sustaining treatment is withheld or withdrawn in the face of uncertainty. SFPs do not necessarily make treatment limitation decisions problematic. To minimize the effects of SFPs, it is essential to carefully collect and appraise evidence about prognosis. Doctors need to be honest with themselves and with patients and their families about uncertainty and the limits of knowledge. (shrink)
It is widely believed to be permissible for a physician to discontinue any treatment upon the request of a competent patient. Many also believe it is never permissible for a physician to intentionally kill a patient. I argue that the prospect of deactivating a patient’s artificial heart presents us with a dilemma: either the first belief just mentioned is false or the second one is. Whichever horn of the dilemma we choose has significant implications for contemporary medical ethics.
This paper reviews some recent litigation in the United States which addresses the difficult question of withdrawing food and hydration from both competent and incompetent patients. Whilst the decisions in question have manifested a trend towards favouring patient autonomy, they also indicate an underlying tension between doctors, health care facilities and their dying patients which is not yet close to resolution. The author suggests that the courts in the United States are likely to remain, for the foreseeable future, the (...) final arbiters in that country of disputes relating to the termination of life-sustaining treatment. (shrink)
This article explores the taxing legal questions that are raised in the context of withdrawing life sustaining treatment from patients who are in a minimally conscious state. The Court of Protection, for the first time in England, was recently asked to rule on this issue. This paper analyses the legal and ethical implications of this decision moving forward.
In many forms of severe acute brain injury there is an early phase when prognosis is uncertain, followed later by physiological recovery and the possibility of more certain predictions of future impairment. There may be a window of opportunity for withdrawal of life support early, but if decisions are delayed there is the risk that the patient will survive with severe impairment. In this paper I focus on the example of neonatal encephalopathy and the question of the timing of prognostic (...) tests and decisions to continue or to withdraw life-sustaining treatment. Should testing be performed early or later; and how should parents decide what to do given the conflicting values at stake? I apply decision theory to the problem, using sensitivity analysis to assess how different features of the tests or different values would affect a decision to perform early or late prognostic testing. I draw some general conclusions from this model for decisions about the timing of testing in neonatal encephalopathy. Finally I consider possible solutions to the problem posed by the window of opportunity. Decision theory highlights the costs of uncertainty. This may prompt further research into improving prognostic tests. But it may also prompt us to reconsider our current attitudes towards the palliative care of newborn infants predicted to be severely impaired. (shrink)
End-of-life decision-making is controversial. There are different views about when it is appropriate to limit life-sustaining treatment, and about what palliative options are permissible. One approach to decisions of this nature sees consensus as crucial. Decisions to limit treatment are made only if all or a majority of caregivers agree. We argue, however, that it is a mistake to require professional consensus in end-of-life decisions. In the first part of the article we explore practical, ethical, and legal factors (...) that support agreement. We analyse subjective and objective accounts of moral reasoning: accord is neither necessary nor sufficient for decisions. We propose an alternative norm for decisions – that of ‘professional dissensus’. In the final part of the article we address the role of agreement in end-of-life policy. Such guidelines can ethically be based on dissensus rather than consensus. Disagreement is not always a bad thing. (shrink)
This paper argues that Sulmasy and Sugarman have not succeeded in showing a moral difference between withholding and withdrawingtreatment. In particular, they have misunderstood historical entitlement theory, which does not automatically prefer a first occupant by just acquisition.
Objective: To evaluate feasibility of the guidelines of the Groupe Francophone de Réanimation et Urgence Pédiatriques for limitation of treatments in the paediatric intensive care unit .Design: A 2-year prospective survey.Setting: A 12-bed PICU at the Hôpital Jeanne de Flandre, Lille, France.Patients: Were included when limitation of treatments was expected.Results: Of 967 children admitted, 55 were included with a 2-day median delay. They were younger than others , had a higher paediatric risk of mortality score , and a higher paediatric (...) overall performance category score at admission ; all p<0.002. 34 children died. A limitation decision was made without meeting for 7 children who died: 6 received do-not-resuscitate orders and 1 received withholding decision. Decision-making meetings were organised for 31 children, and the following decisions were made: 12 DNROs , 4 withholding , with 14 withdrawing and 1 continuing treatment . After limitation, 21 children died and 10 survived . 13 procedures were interrupted because of death and 11 because of clinical improvement . Parents’ opinions were obtained after 4 family conferences , 3 days after inclusion. The first meeting was planned for 6 days after inclusion and held on the 7th day after inclusion; 80% of parents were immediately informed of the decision, which was implemented after half a day.Conclusions: GFRUPs procedure was applicable in most cases. The main difficulties were anticipating the correct date for the meeting and involving nurses in the procedure. Children for whom the procedure was interrupted because of clinical improvement and who survived in poor condition without a formal decision pointed out the need for medical criteria for questioning, which should systematically lead to a formal decision-making process. (shrink)
The guidelines on Decisions Relating to Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation begin with a reassuringly objective view of medicine: its “primary goal” is to benefit patients by “restoring or maintaining their health as far as possible, thereby maximising benefit and minimising harm”. Some might want to add that medicine has several goals, not all of which relate to promoting health; however, those who see the aim of the profession as more than consumer satisfaction will welcome the suggestion here that not just any choice (...) counts as medicine. In the same way, the statement which heads the next paragraph would be rejected by very few readers if “quality of life” were suitably defined. If all we mean by “quality of life” is the patient's level of wellbeing, with no suggestion that the value of his or her “being” can fall to zero or below, it is uncontroversial that “it is not an appropriate goal of medicine to prolong life at all costs with no regard to its quality or the burdens of treatment on the patient”. This is, however, an overly benign interpretation of “quality of life” observations as they appear in the guidelines. (shrink)
Our response to death may differ depending on the patient’s age. We may feel that death is a sad, but acceptable event in an elderly patient, yet feel that death in a very young patient is somehow unfair. This paper explores whether there is any ethical basis for our different responses. It examines in particular whether a patient’s age should be relevant to the determination that an intervention is medically futile. It also considers the responsibilities of health professionals and the (...) rights of family members in situations where an interventions is clearly futile. (shrink)
After reviewing the history, rationale, and Jim Rachels’ varied uses of the notion of biographical lives, the essay further develops its social dimensions and proposes an ontological analysis. Whether one person is leading one life or more turns on the number of separate social worlds he or she creates and maintains. Furthermore, lives are constituted by narrated events in a story. Lives, however, are not stories, but rather are extended “verbal objects,” that is, “narrative objects” with a hybrid character, both (...) linguistic and by inference non-verbal. In this they are like facts, propositions, and histories, grasped only through their verbal expression. Being narrative and socially embedded, lives can arguably be extended beyond the death of the principal liver of a life by the commemorative actions of those who shared it. Jim hoped to persuade doctors to shift from a traditional Sanctity of Life principle to a Sanctity of Lives principle. Accordingly, they could stop pointless prolongation of biological life once a patient permanently loses consciousness, his criterion of the end of a biographical life. It might seem that allowing lives to be extended past that point or death would forego that clinical benefit, but that is not so. (shrink)
The death by assisted suicide in Switzerland of Australian Dr. John Elliott, in early 2007 has highlighted the inadequacy of the law pertaining to medical decisions at end-of-life, both from a legal as well as ethical perspective. Despite being illegal in most jurisdictions around the world, physician-assisted death is a reality, in part because of the flexibility, inconsistent application and, at times, invisibility, of laws surrounding it. The appropriate response to this should be greater transparency by a reform of the (...) law. (shrink)
If a disabled newborn infant dies, her parents may be able to conceive another child without impairment. This is sometimes referred to as 'replacement'. Some philosophers have argued that replacement provides a strong reason for disabled newborns to be killed or allowed to die. In this paper I focus on the case for replacement as it relates to decisions about life support in newborn intensive care. I argue (following Jeff McMahan) that the impersonal reason to replace is weak and easily (...) outweighed. I assess and reject several possible ways in which the impersonal reason to replace could be defended. I then address an alternative justification for replacement - as an individual-affecting benefit. The strongest justification for replacement may be the interests of parents. In the latter part of the paper I look at a related question. What role should replacement play in decisions about the funding of newborn intensive care? (shrink)
For the past 30 years, the Melbourne urologist Dr Rodney Syme has quietly—and more recently, not-so-quietly—assisted terminally and permanently ill people to die. This paper draws on Syme’s recent book, A Good Death: An Argument for Voluntary Euthanasia , to identify and to reflect on some important challenges to what I outline as the traditional account of law, ethics, and end of life decisions. Among the challenges Syme makes to the traditional view is his argument that physicians’ intentions are frail (...) and unfairly expose physicians to moral and legal censure. Secondly, Syme argues that physician-assisted dying (PAD) should be framed as a form of palliative care, not as a kind of safety-chute for when palliative care fails. Thirdly, Syme himself is a rare breed: a dissident doctor who has opened himself up for scrutiny and criticism, by reflecting publicly on his experiences at the edge of the law. Syme’s career illustrates that prohibition, just like legalization, is a social policy that carries social consequences. The paper acknowledges the variability and idiosyncratic nature of extra-legal physician-assisted dying, and argues that the best way forward is to attempt to weigh the social consequences of both policies. Advocates and opponents of PAD should recognize that both prohibition and legalization involve trade-offs and impose possible costs on patients and on society. (shrink)
Ethical dilemmas are common in the neonatal intensive care setting. The aim of the present study was to investigate the opinions of Swedish physicians and the general public on treatment decisions regarding a newborn with severe brain damage. We used a vignette-based questionnaire which was sent to a random sample of physicians (n = 628) and the general population (n = 585). Respondents were asked to provide answers as to whether it is acceptable to discontinue ventilator treatment, and (...) when it actually is discontinued whether or not it was acceptable to use drugs which hasten death unintentionally or intentionally. The response rate was 67 % of physicians and 46 % of the general population. A majority of both physicians [56 % (CI 50–62)] and the general population [53 % (CI 49–58)] supported arguments for withdrawing ventilator treatment. A large majority in both groups supported arguments for alleviating the patient’s symptoms even if the treatment hastened death, but the two groups display significantly different views on whether or not to provide drugs with the additional intention of hastening death, although the difference disappeared when we compared subgroups of those who were for or against euthanasia-like actions. The study indicated that physicians and the general population have similar opinions regarding discontinuing life-sustaining treatment and providing effective drugs which might unintentionally hasten death but seem to have different views on intentions. The results might be helpful to physicians wanting to examine their own intentions when providing adequate treatment at the end of life. (shrink)
In 2011 the English Court of Protection ruled that it would be unlawful to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration from a woman, M, who had been in a minimally conscious state for 8 years. It was reported as the first English legal case concerning withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration from a patient in a minimally conscious state who was otherwise stable. In the absence of a valid and applicable advance decision refusing treatment, of other life-limiting pathology or excessively (...) burdensome suffering, the judgement makes it clear that the obligation on health professionals falls strongly in favour of preserving life. Although the Court sought to limit the judgement as closely as possible to the facts of the case, it is likely to have a significant impact on life-sustaining treatment decisions for people in states of low awareness. This paper outlines the main legal features of the judgement. (shrink)
This paper examines the recent prominent view in medical ethics that withdrawing life-sustaining treatment is an act of killing. I trace this view to the rejection of the traditional claim that withdrawing LST is an omission rather than an act. Although that traditional claim is not as problematic as this recent prominent view suggests, my main claim is that even if we accepted that withdrawing LST should be classified as an act rather than as an omission, (...) it could still be classified as letting die rather than killing. Even though omissions are contrasted with acts, letting die need not be, for one can let die by means of acts. The remainder of the paper is devoted to establishing this claim and addresses certain objections to it. (shrink)
Objectives: To summarise the types of case brought to the Clinical Ethics Committee of the National Hospital of Norway from 1996 to 2002 and to describe and discuss to what extent issues of information/communication have been involved in the ethical problems. Design: Systematic review of case reports. Findings: Of the 31 case discussions, (20 prospective, 11 retrospective), 19 cases concerned treatment of children. Twenty cases concerned ethical problems related to withholding/withdrawing of treatment. In 25 cases aspects of (...) information/communication were involved in the ethical problem, either explicitly (n = 3) or implicitly (n = 22). Conclusion: Problems related to information/communication may underlie a classic ethical problem. Identification of these “hidden” problems may be important for the analysis, and hence, the solution to the ethical dilemma. (shrink)
Patient organizations are increasingly involved in national and international bioethical debates and health policy deliberations. In order to examine how and to what extent cultural factors and organizational contexts influence the positions of patient organizations, this study compares the positions of German and Israeli patient organizations (POs) on issues related to end-of-life medical care. We draw on a qualitative pilot study of thirteen POs, using as a unit of analysis pairs comprised of one German PO and one Israeli PO that (...) were matched on the basis of organizational category. Bioethical positions that emanated from the interviews concerned advance directives—general views, recent legal framework, and formalization; as well as active and passive euthanasia, withholding and withdrawing of treatment, and physician-assisted suicide. In addition to the unifying, within-country impact of cultural factors, we found that constituency-based organizations and partner organizations in both countries often share common views, whereas disease-based support organizations have very heterogeneous positions. We conclude by discussing how organizational contexts provide a source of uniformity as well as diversity in the positions of POs. (shrink)
Objectives—To assess whether UK and US health care professionals share the views of medical ethicists about medical futility, withdrawing/withholding treatment, ordinary/extraordinary interventions, and the doctrine of double effectDesign, subjects and setting–A 138-item attitudinal questionnaire completed by 469 UK nurses studying the Open University course on “Death and Dying” was compared with a similar questionnaire administered to 759 US nurses and 687 US doctors taking the Hastings Center course on “Decisions near the End of Life”.Results–Practitioners accept the relevance of (...) concepts widely disparaged by bioethicists: double effect, medical futility, and the distinctions between heroic/ordinary interventions and withholding/ withdrawingtreatment. Within the UK nurses' group a “rationalist” axis of respondents who describe themselves as having “no religion” are closer to the bioethics consensus on withholding and withdrawingtreatment.Conclusions—Professionals' beliefs differ substantially from the recommendations of their professional bodies and from majority opinion in bioethics. Bioethicists should be cautious about assuming that their opinions will be readily accepted by practitioners. (shrink)
As the field of clinical ethics consultation sets standards and moves forward with the Quality Attestation process, questions should be raised about what ethical issues really do arise in practice. There is limited data on the type and number of ethics consultations conducted across different settings. At Loyola University Medical Center, we conducted a retrospective review of our ethics consultations from 2008 through 2013. One hundred fifty-six cases met the eligibility criteria. We analyzed demographic data on these patients and conducted (...) a content analysis of the ethics consultation write-ups coding both the frequency of ethical issues and most significant, or key, ethical issue per case. Patients for whom ethics consultation was requested were typically male, white, between 50 and 69 years old, of non-Hispanic origin, and of Roman Catholic faith. Nearly half were in the intensive care unit and 44.2 % died in the hospital. The most frequent broad ethical categories were decision-making, goals of care/treatment, and end-of-life. More specifically, capacity, patient’s wishes/autonomy, and surrogate decision maker were the most frequent particular ethical issues. The most common key ethical issues were withdrawing/withholding treatment, patient wishes/autonomy, and capacity. Our findings provide additional data to inform the training of clinical ethics consultants regarding the ethical issues that arise in practice. A wider research agenda should be formed to collect and compare data across institutions to improve education and training in our field. (shrink)
This paper focuses on the ethical dilemmas created by advanced technology that would allow patients with motor neurone disease to be sustained by artificial ventilation. The author attempts to support the patient's right to informed choice, arguing from the perspective of autonomy as a first order principle. The counter arguments of caregiver burden and financial restraints are analysed. In the UK, where active euthanasia is not legalized, the dilemma of commencing ventilation is seen to be outweighed by the problems of (...)withdrawing this treatment. The lack of accurate data and protocols that would clarify the current situation is emphasized and the conclusion takes the form of a recommendation for further research. (shrink)
Hospital ethics committees (HECs) have historically been instituted top-down, often ignoring the needs of the professionals and patients who might use their services. Seventy-four physicians and 123 nurses participated in a hospital-wide needs assessment designed to  identify their perceptions of the functions of the HEC,  determine which services and educational programs were most desired, and  explore which forums were most preferred for discussion of ethical problems. Results indicated that utilization of the HEC focused around five areas of (...) concern: withdrawing/withholding treatment, rationing and control of health care, children's rights, role of the patient and family in decisionmaking, and disagreements about treatment. Physicians and nurses differed widely in their attitudes. Perceptions about the appropriate functions of the HEC strongly influenced decisions regarding which HEC services to use. Needs assessment can play an important role in developing HEC goals and designing programs that meet the needs of professionals. (shrink)
Adults without the capacity to make their own medical decisions have their rights protected under the Mental Capacity Act in the UK. The underlying principle of the court's decisions is the best interests test, and the evaluation of best interests is a welfare appraisal. Although the House of Lords in the well-known case of Bland held that the decision to withhold treatment for patients in a persistent vegetative state should not be based on their best interests, judges in recent (...) cases have still held that the best interests of persistently vegetative patients demand that the right to die with dignity prevails over society's interest to preserve life. The basis of suggesting that it is in the best interests for one who is alive in peace to die in peace is weak. Even if it may not be in their best interests to live on, it may not be so to die either. The phrase ‘the right to dignity/to die with dignity’ has been misused as a trump card to justify the speculation that a vegetative patient would necessarily refuse to live on machines. Without disrespect to the court's decision, we argue that the use of the best interests test to authorise withdrawing/withholding treatment from persistently vegetative patients without an advance directive is problematic. We propose that the court could have reached the same decision by considering only the futility of treatment without working through the controversial best interests of the patient. (shrink)