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Topic: Patient Care
September 9, 2013 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

Sarah is 10 years old and has cancer. She has lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. News reports suggest that her parents and Sarah herself, decided to stop chemo treatment. “Sarah’s father said she begged her parents to stop the chemotherapy and they agreed after a great deal of prayer”. Sarah and her family are Amish. Reports note that they refused chemobecause the side effects made Sarah horribly sick, and that she was worried about losing her fertility. They decided to use a doctor who would attempt to treat the cancer with natural medicines, like herbs and vitamins. 

Over the last couple of days, their court battle has been outlined in the media. The hospital, where Sarah had been treated with chemotherapy, had applied for limited guardianship.  Guardianship would allow them to ‘force’ chemo therapy on her, particularly as they estimated her chance of long-term survival around 85% after treatment. Initially, this guardianship request was refused on grounds that it was the parents’ right to end treatment, while on appeal the judge ruled her best-interest had to be reconsidered. However, the most recent judgment reasoned that the parents were concerned and informed, that they have a right to decide about treatment for their child, that there was no guarantee for success of the chemo, and that guardianship & treatment would go against the girl’s wishes as it could cause her infertility. Guardianship was refused; Sarah’s health is governed by her parents.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

July 31, 2013 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

You are mid 50ties, you have several university degrees from top universities, you have a PhD in Chemistry and are happily married. You seem to have a great life, but for one thing: while your legs are fully functioning, you do not want them. And it is not even that you just do not want them; you feel that they do not belong to you. They give you great suffering.

Earlier this week, the Huffington Post reports on Cloe Jennings who suffers from her healthy legs. Reportedly, she suffered from her legs since she was 4 years old and has held the desire to have them amputated or to be paralysed from that time. Jennings is raising money to travel to a surgeon who has offered to help her.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

March 28, 2013 | Posted By Paul Burcher, MD, PhD

Two articles in the New York Times raise a disturbing question regarding the ethics of cancer treatment in this country.  The first on ovarian cancer treatment noted that despite significantly better survival data with intraperitoneal chemotherapy (IP) over intravenous chemotherapy (IV) for ovarian cancer, most oncologists were still using IV chemotherapy. The reason given is that IP chemotherapy is more difficult to give, and more labor intensive, but is not reimbursed at a higher rate.  That is, physicians are routinely withholding the more effective treatment for economic reasons.  Another recent article describes how oncologists tend to choose more expensive chemotherapy even when it is not more effective because they are paid a percentage of the drug’s cost. 

It is an often-repeated truism that physician behavior will follow economic incentives perfectly—if you wish to reduce physician procedures capitate patient care, if you wish to increase patient procedures, pay physicians on a fee-for-service basis.  While this has been empirically demonstrated, it is a bit hard to accept that this adage remains true even when physicians seems to be crossing the line into unethical behavior in order to follow the almighty dollar.  The IP chemotherapy issue is most troubling because it represents physicians giving care they know to be inferior because the better treatment costs more to deliver, and this reduces their own income.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

March 12, 2013 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

Thomas Gray first coined the phrase “ignorance is bliss,” in his Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eaton College, but is that truly the case when it comes to the millions of people who are diagnosed with some form of dementia related cognitive impairment? According the a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, early dementia testing may offer many benefits to patients and families who will face long term care needs as the disease progresses.  The article notes that early screening is only one step in a continuum of care and planning. Once a diagnosis is made, do the benefits of knowledge outweigh the burdens for the patient?

When it comes to care planning, the benefits of early detection of a progressive dementia likely do outweigh the burdens, for both patient and family. Depending on the patient’s awareness of the cognitive changes, the individual may be able to indicate wishes for treatment and complete advance directives. Family members can discuss residential options and consider how supervision and support will be provided before they face a crisis. Though many strains may be minimized with early planning, it may be difficult to interpret the patient’s genuine preferences at later stages, and just how much weight should later wishes be given? 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

January 24, 2013 | Posted By Joshua Perry, JD & Jamie Prenkert, JD

Objections to flu shots among healthcare workers have garnered much recent media attention. Depending on your point of view, the objecting workers might be martyrs for their beliefs or callous villains intent on spreading preventable disease. Regardless, the ethical and legal issues need to be clarified before resorting to simplistic labels.

First, what’s the fuss all about? Healthcare workers around the nation have reportedly refused to take the flu vaccine for a number of reasons. The objections are premised upon personal autonomy or ideology (“Nobody should be able to force me to put anything into my body.”), scientific skepticism (“I don’t believe the flu shot works.”), medical fear (“I may be one who has a rare allergic reaction.”), and/or some variety of religious conviction (“God gave us a body with an immune system, and if we live healthy and pray, we won’t get sick.").

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admits that the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective, given the variety of strains floating around out there. In fact, the efficacy of this year’s shot is only about 62 percent. That is not great, but it is far better than nothing. The American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, and CDC all recommend healthcare workers be vaccinated to enhance patient safety. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

January 11, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

As someone who has done clinical ethics consultations for many years I long ago reached the conclusion that many of the so-called ethical problems that we encounter during ethics consultations could be prevented if only a more constructive line of communication had been established from the beginning of the patient’s hospital stay. Let me specify just what kind of patients and families I have in mind, the kind of communication I am talking about and the type of intervention that is needed.

Let’s face it, most patients come to the hospital with an identifiable medical problem about which there is little controversy, so the physician can diagnose and treat with a predictable, usually favorable, outcome. These are not the cases for which we get called on to do ethics consultations, nor are they the cases that take excessive amounts of time and create significant emotional stress such as cases that involve conflicts. In the less common cases where serious conflicts between various parties emerge, we are usually dealing with patients who have more medical problems, which often involve the risk of dying. The patient often lacks capacity and is unable to speak his or her mind about the goals of care and how far to use aggressive medical interventions. This means that families or loved ones of the patient must speak for the patient, i.e. serve as surrogates, and communicate with physicians about care plan goals and the appropriateness of particular procedures such as CPR in the event of cardio-pulmonary arrest.  To say the least, this is a stressful role for families and loved ones.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

 

November 23, 2012 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

Giving bad news is a difficult thing to do. Receiving bad news is hard, too, but is perhaps a close second to hearing a complicated, vague version of the same set of facts. In healthcare, the failure to disclose pertinent facts in clear, uncomplicated language and verify the information is understood is harmful to the recipient of this information, but also to the provider, who must often untangle the resulting misunderstandings later on.  Families and patients who find they are asking "Why didn’t someone tell me?" may be on the receiving end of an attempt to give bad news.

I tend to think of these vague communication moments as 'dodges.' Rather than stating "I believe your Aunt Lila’s condition will not improve and we need to talk about what kind of care she would want" is instead a listing of diagnoses, medications, lab values, and a review of body systems, surgical options, and statistical probabilities. This type of encounter shifts the focus from the overall prognosis to the details, which though factual, obscure the big picture of a patient who is not expected to recover. Avoiding a frank disclosure of the fact that a patient is doing poorly doesn’t help the patient, and does not help anyone make informed decisions. But it serves a purpose in the moment. Sidestepping the straightforward presentation of bad news may avert or postpone the experience of delivering upsetting news and witnessing the emotional suffering of others who hear it. I get it. It is stressful and distressing to be the source of often devastating news. Yet, we must keep in mind that the news itself is the source of the upset, and the bearer of the news need not feel morally culpably for the facts. The old adage applies, 'it’s not what you say, it is how you say it.' We owe it to medical providers to give them adequate practice and training in delivering bad news as well as opportunities to observe experienced practitioners talk with patients and families when critical conversations are held.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 30, 2012 | Posted By Michael Brannigan, PhD

Here is cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard's account of his conversation with Louis Washkansky just before he performed on him the first human heart transplant, in 1967:

"'We know you have a heart disease for which we can do nothing more. You have had all possible treatment, and you are getting no better. We can put a normal heart into you, after taking out your heart that's no longer any good, and there's a chance you can get back to normal life again.'

"'So they told me. So I'm ready to go ahead.'

"Washkansky said no more. His eyes remained on me but with no indication he wanted to know anything more.

"'Well, then ... goodbye,' I said.

"'Goodbye.'"

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit ourwebsite.

September 26, 2012 | Posted By Hayley Dittus-Doria, MPH

An article about the concept of overtreatment recently caught my eye. We live in a world of excess-bigger houses and larger food portions, among others. These are necessarily bad, just perhaps more than we need. The same goes for medical treatment. Like many things in the U.S., people equate “more” or “bigger” with “better.”

The problem with this mentality when it comes to healthcare procedures is the large cost that comes with it. According to the article, overtreatment is costing the U.S. healthcare system $210 billion each year. And spending that money doesn’t earn us high marks in terms of our health outcomes compared to the rest of theworld. Between “one fifth and one third of our health care dollars” are spent “on care that does nothing to improve our health” according to Shannon Brownlee, author of “Overtreated.” In a 2009 New Yorker article, Dr. Atul Gwande also points out the fact that simply because you’re receiving more aggressive healthcare doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthier. 

Overtreatment has additional, non-financial ramifications as well. Emotional consequences can be quite serious. What if you had a cough for a few weeks? And when looking into the cough, you discover something else? And when looking into that new diagnosis, yet another problem comes to light? When your expectation was just to be treated for your cough, would you want to find out all of the other illnesses you might have? Maybe. But maybe not. Perhaps, other than your cough, you felt fine, but now your days are spent getting test done, blood work run, procedures scheduled.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

September 11, 2012 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

Plans are underway at some drug store chains and other discount retailers to open in-store clinics which will offer an expanded menu of low cost vaccines and basic clinic services to consumers. Vaccines for flu and pneumonia have been available at retail locations for a number of years, and have become a familiar practice at drugstore chains and other retailers particularly during autumn when the newest flu vaccines are available. A folding table and chairs, consent forms, alcohol swabs and a sharps container typically wait at the end of often long lines of people seeking these prophylactic shots. More recently, several retailers began opening in-store clinics and current estimates of existing in-store clinics hover around 1,300. The pending expansion of these clinics may bring the numbers up to over 3,000 within the next 3 years. 

The self-proclaimed low price leader, Wal-Mart, plans to open independently owned and operated in-store clinics which will treat walk-in patients seven days a week. The list of services ranges from acne care and common vaccines to flu treatment (for those who missed the Wal-Mart flu shots) and upper respiratory infections. It seems reasonable to presume that other in-store clinics are or will be similarly equipped. For the millions of Americans who have difficulty accessing primary care, this may be a tolerable solution which falls somewhere in between going to the ER for these routine healthcare issues and having a primary care physician who can provide comprehensive on-going care. As noted in a piece printed in The Detroit News, the Affordable Care Act will thrust millions of newly insured patients into the waiting rooms of medical offices clogging an already strained primary care system. Perhaps the locating clinics in popular stores is a kind of outreach for clinic owners who  have been unsuccessful in efforts to provide care to underserved populations. I am not convinced these clinics represent such altruistic intentions. This expansion of medical services raises questions about whether or not this venue truly supports the best interests of patients.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit ourwebsite.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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