102. Case: A Question from Family About Outcomes

You are caring for a patient following a severe stroke. The attending physician has been very clear with the family that it is unlikely that the patient will survive and that, if he does, it will be with very significant impairments. Still, the family takes any movement or facial change as an indication that he is improving. They are praying for his full recovery and today, at the end of your shift, the eldest child asks you when you think her father will be ready to go home.  How will you respond to the question?


Your family has strong faith convictions and a firm belief that “where there is breath, there is hope”.  Your father had a stroke unexpectedly and you found him slumped over when you came home from class.  You feel guilty because you stopped on the way home to get coffee with a friend.  The doctor said that your father’s “prognosis is poor”, but you’ve heard lots of stories about doctors being wrong. You also feel strongly that if you believe that your father will recover this will help to bring it about and that the converse is true, that if you allow yourself to think or talk about your father’s death it could cause it to happen.  So, you ask the doctor when they think your father will be able to come home. How would you respond if the physician says, “I don’t think your father will be able to go home…”?


Discussion Questions:

  • How did your response to the case shift when you read about it from a different perspective?
  • What do you see as the most important values for each person involved in the conversation?
  • What might be some of the undercurrents that influence the direction the conversation takes?
  • What makes this a difficult conversation for each participant?
  • Who else might be involved in having subsequent conversations with the family about care decisions?

References:

Barley, S. 2010. Having the difficult conversations about the end of life. The BMJ 2010; 341, published 16 September 2016 https://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c4862

Lippe, M. 2018. Drawing the line between hope and false expectations. Blogpost, Reflections on Nursing Leadership. Published online 09/19/2018 https://www.reflectionsonnursingleadership.org/features/more-features/Drawing-the-line-between-hope-and-false-expectations

NSHA Library Services: Conversations about serious illness: https://library.nshealth.ca/SeriousIllness/GOC

Welsh, A. 2016. At end of life, doctors and families often differ in expectations. CBC news, published May 17, 2016. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/better-doctor-family-communication-needed-at-end-of-life-study/

Woelk, C.J. 2008. Management of Hope. Can Fam Physician; 2008 Sep. 54(9): 1243-1245 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553443/

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101. Case: Chatting About Hopes and Goals

You are a social worker who is part of a rehab team.  During lunch, the conversation turns to one of the patients that you and your team is working with. The patient was in a scooter accident and suffered multiple fractures. They are struggling to regain their ability to walk and can often be heard expressing their frustration. Some around the table are concerned that the patient is giving up and that they seem to have “no hope for the future” – despite the expectation that they should be able to walk again. One of your team members turns to you and says, “You seem to have a good rapport with this patient, why don’t you talk to them about this?”  This is not the first time you’ve received such a request, and you appreciate that your colleagues have recognized your skill at building rapport. But there is no extra time, or any other resources provided to you to acknowledge the contribution you are making.  How will you respond to this request?  And how might you raise this at the next team meeting?


You are 23 years old and you were in a collision while riding your scooter and are now in rehab recovering after multiple serious fractures. Rehab is a lot of effort and you aren’t experiencing the improvements you expected.  Your friends have stopped coming by to visit and you feel lonely and isolated in the hospital.  You know that the health care providers are trying their best, but you find it hard not to take your frustration out on them when they’re the only people you see most days. How will you respond the next time a team member encourages you to keep trying?


Discussion Questions:

  • How did your response to the case shift when you read about it from a different perspective?
  • What do you see as the most important values for each person involved in the conversation?
  • What are some of the values that might be in tension for the social worker in thinking through the situation?
  • What types of support might make it easier for the social worker to take on the work of having difficult conversations?
  • How do health care providers build the skills that help difficult conversations go well?

References:

Canadian Physiotherapy Association. Ethics and professionalism toolkit. https://physiotherapy.ca/ethics-and-professionalism-toolkit

Forbes Coaches Council. 14 Ways To Approach Conflict And Difficult Conversations At Work https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/07/17/14-ways-to-approach-conflict-and-difficult-conversations-at-work/#698346ac3cfd

Woelk, C.J. 2008. Management of Hope. Can Fam Physician; 2008 Sep. 54(9): 1243-1245 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553443/

98. Case: A Conversation About Vaccination with a New Parent

You are a nurse practitioner working in a family practice.  A first-time parent brings their child in for a 2-month checkup.  The parent seems nervous when vaccines are mentioned as a routine part of the appointment.  You ask the parent specifically about vaccination, and the parent is hesitant.  They say that they “can’t get idea of something bad happening to the baby because of the vaccination out of [their] head”.  You have a strong commitment to vaccination as a part of good health care practice and to adhering to the standard public health vaccination schedule.  How do you proceed with this conversation?


You are a first-time parent taking your 2-month-old baby into your doctor’s office for a checkup.  You are told when you arrive that the nurse practitioner, whom you’ve met before and liked, will be seeing you today.  You don’t have any concerns about your baby’s growth and development and are excited to see how much weight they’ve gained since their last appointment.   You are surprised when the nurse mentions vaccination; you had thought that you didn’t have to worry about that until the next appointment.  Since your baby was born you’ve been very aware of all the ways that they could be harmed, and you’ve been intent on avoiding all the risks you can; you have even stopped driving with your baby in the car unless absolutely necessary.  You know that the risks associated with vaccination are low but wonder if they could nonetheless be reduced or avoided somehow.  You experience the nurse’s questions about vaccination as a type of threat and feel defensive, although you also recognize that’s not the nurse’s intent.  How will you respond to the nurse practitioner?


Discussion Questions:

  • How did your response to the case shift when you read about it from a different perspective?
  • What do you see as the most important values for each person involved in the conversation?
  • What are some of the other values and principles that are relevant when considering how to proceed in cases like this?
  • Which factors contribute to making this a difficult conversation?
  • What would the best possible outcome in this case look or sound like?

References:

Halperin, S.A.  2000. How to Manage Parents Unsure About Immunization. CME. January 2000; 62-75. https://www.ucalgary.ca/paed/files/paed/4-halperin-article3.pdf

Zimlich, R. 2018. 4 Tools to Frame Conversations about Vacccines. Contemporary Pediatrics, November 13, 2018.   https://www.contemporarypediatrics.com/pediatric-immunization/4-tools-frame-conversations-about-vaccination

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Talking with Parents about Vaccines for Infants. Provider Resources for Vaccine Conversations with Parents. [Accessed March 12, 2019]  https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/conversations/talking-with-parents.html

Paterson, P., Meurice, F., Stanberry, L.R., Glismann, S., Rosenthal, S.L., Larson,  H.J. 2016. Vaccine hesitancy and healthcare providers. Vaccine, Vol 34 (52), 20 December 2016, p. 6700-6706

TEDx Talks. Tara Haelle. Why Parents Fear Vaccines. Published on May 2nd 2016. TEDxOslo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggtkzkoI3eM

 

95. Case: Conventional vs Chinese Medicine

Lisa Chun is a 12 year old recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.  She arrived as a refugee from China five years ago with her parents and her younger brother.  She has integrated well into the community and is successful in school.  She often acts as an interpreter for her parents.

Lisa is prescribed corticosteroids and biologic therapies, but she states that she would prefer to pursue treatment with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), consisting of acupuncture and herbs.  Her parents indicate that they support her in this choice. Lisa’s parents have previously expressed discomfort about the diagnostic tests that Lisa underwent and Lisa and her family have missed a few appointments, which have had to be rescheduled.

The team is concerned about the long-term effects of not treating with conventional therapies, given that Lisa is very small for her age and is not displaying signs of puberty.

Some members of the team who have worked closely with Lisa feel that she has capacity to make this decision.  They believe that her reasoning, based on belief that TCM treatment is better able to respond to the way that Crohn’s has manifested in her body, is appropriate.  Other members of the team feel very uncomfortable with allowing her to refuse conventional therapy altogether, although they say they are willing to explore integrating TCM with conventional approaches.

Finally, certain team members are concerned that they will “lose” Lisa and her family and worry that requiring a capacity assessment for Lisa (or her parents) will irrevocably damage the relationship.

Concerns have also been raised about whether there’s an obligation to contact Child Welfare if Lisa and her parents continue to refuse conventional therapy.

The team has requested support from the ethics committee to help them work out how to approach this situation.


Questions:

What will make this case clinically challenging?

What will make this case ethically challenging?

How might the ethics committee support the team in addressing these challenges?

What would change (if anything) if Lisa and her parents came from Estonia instead of China?

94. Case: Mr. Rattan Wants to Stay

Mr. Rattan has been a resident at Ocean Wind, a retirement community offering a range of options for accommodation, for the last ten years since his partner died.  Currently he has a studio apartment in the assisted living wing, which provides assistance with ADLs.

Mr. Rattan has been diagnosed with dementia.  In the last few months his younger daughter, who typically visits on her way home from work, has become concerned that his current living situation doesn’t meet his needs and wants him to move into the locked dementia unit in a different wing of the building.  She has started to make arrangements for Mr. Rattan to move.

When his daughter talks with him about moving, Mr. Rattan seems amenable to this option.  But twice when staff have come to discuss moving with him he refuses, saying that he’s comfortable where he is and that he doesn’t want to spend the extra money.

Mr. Rattan’s elder daughter and son have both called Ocean Wind to reinforce that Mr. Rattan has told them he doesn’t want to move and that they want his wishes to be respected.  Mr. Rattan does not have an personal directive in place.

Staff have expressed some concerns about Mr. Rattan, indicating that he seems frequently to be confused and disoriented at the end of the day.  They are also considering requesting a capacity assessment, but there is disagreement about whether that is an appropriate next step.

The manager at Ocean Wind has contacted you as the chair of the ethics committee looking for support with this case.


 

Questions:

What will make this case clinically challenging?

What will make this case ethically challenging?

How might the ethics committee support Ocean Wind in addressing these challenges?

What would change (if anything) if Mr. Rattan had a personal directive identifying his son as the substitute decision maker?

91. Case: What is Best for Angela?

Angela Flores is a six year old with some minor developmental delays caused by traumatic birth.  She has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor and her prognosis is poor.  The health care team is trying to determine goals of care and a develop treatment plan.

Angela lives with and is cared for by her paternal grandparents, Jean and Rod, but there is no formal custody arrangement in place.  Angela’s parents have separated and her mother, Tina, has moved to Ontario to seek work on the understanding that she will send for Angela when she finds a job and an apartment.  Tina is in regular contact with the health care team by phone.  Angela’s father, Aaron, is sporadically involved in her life, coming and going unpredictably.

Angela’s grandparents are advocating for comfort measures only while Tina wants to pursue active, aggressive treatment and is asking whether there are any research studies that Angela could be enrolled in.  Aaron is currently in town and he wants to involve a homeopath in Angela’s care.

Jean and Rod appear to be frustrated with both Tina and Aaron and feel that they are best placed to make decisions for Angela.  Meanwhile, both Tina and Aaron emphasize that they are Angela’s parents and expect to be involved in decision making.  They get very upset when they perceive that decisions have been made without them.  There have been a couple of family meetings involving all four adults, and every time someone has stormed out of the meeting.

Jean and Rod are worried that Angela will be significantly distressed by the whole process of getting treatment as it will significantly disrupt her routine and there is another family member who recently died of cancer and Jean and Rod say that his treatment was painful, ineffective, and resulted in a “bad” death.  Jean and Rod are also very unwilling to involve Angela in any discussions about her diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, saying that “there’s no way she can understand and it will just upset her.”

The health care team is also divided regarding what they believe are appropriate goals of care for Angela and some members who have worked with Angela for a long time are experiencing significant moral distress at the prospect of moving to palliative care.    They also aren’t sure how to approach conversations with the family given the level of conflict present, and are concerned that the conflict between the adults is interfering with making appropriate decisions for Angela.

How might you approach this situation?

90. Case: End the Transfusions?

Joyce Skinner is a 38 year old woman with non-curative leukemia. She is the single mother of two children, ages 11 and 8, and her ex-husband is ‘out of the (parental) picture’. Since her leukemia diagnosis, Joyce has approached her progressive hematological cancer in an assertive manner, seeing it as her responsibility to fight to stay alive and look after her children for as long as possible. Over the past few years, her attending hemato-oncologist, Dr. Jones, has arranged for her to be a research participant in a variety of experimental chemotherapy trials, which have extended her life beyond what was initially anticipated. However, about 6 months ago, Joyce’s leukemia moved into a treatment-resistant phase and her medical regime is currently palliative in nature and intent. Joyce is now residing in a hematology clinical unit of a tertiary care hospital where she is followed regularly by a palliative care consultant, Dr. Miller. In the last 3 weeks, the frequency of blood transfusions required to keep Joyce’s hemoglobin at a low functional level has progressively increased such that she is now receiving transfusions every second day. Joyce is not eligible for transfer to the hospital’s Palliative Care Unit while blood transfusions are a component of her care plan. She is very weak and is confined to her hospital bed. Her children visit her regularly with their aunt, Cathy, who has assumed parental responsibility for them. They have missed a considerable amount of school time in the last few months.

Despite the honest information provided by Dr. Jones, Joyce is in some denial about her grim prognosis and strongly believes that she can continue to ‘beat the odds’. She remains reasonably clear-headed and is capable of making health care and treatment decisions on her own. She insists that Dr. Jones continue the blood transfusions indefinitely. Her sister and Drs. Jones and Miller are of the shared opinion that the transfusions should be discontinued and that Joyce should be transferred to the Palliative Care Unit.

Dr. Jones, who sits on the provincial blood management committee, is aware that there has been an exceptional demand on existing provincial blood resources in the last few weeks due to a number of major highway accidents. The hospital is chronically under-resourced. There are typically one or more patients waiting in the emergency department for admission to the hematology clinical unit.

Questions for Collective Consideration

  1. What do you think is important to Joyce (in terms of her personal values)? What do you suspect about her personality structure?

 

  1. On what basis, if any, could Joyce claim a right to continue receiving blood transfusions? What other ethics principles and values are at play in these circumstances?

 

  1. What weight in the decision making should be given to the clinical judgments of Drs. Jones and Miller?

 

  1. Should Cathy (as an engaged family member) participate and have some authority in the decision making? Would the nature of this authority change if Joyce loses capacity?

 

  1. Is ‘bedside rationing’ of limited health resources an appropriate form of health resource allocation?

 

  1. With their mandates to manage limited health resources prudently, should the Nova Scotia Health Authority and/or the provincial Department of Health & Wellness have a role(s) in such end-of-life decision making?

 

  1. Under what circumstances, if any, would it be ethical to deny Joyce’s request for further blood transfusions?

89. Case: Who Has a Right to Know?

Kevin is a14-year-old admitted to hospital with persistent headache, muscle spasms, tremors, significant motor impairment, fever, cough and symptoms of liver damage.

A diagnosis of lipoid pneumonia has been made and his clinicians are very suspicious that he has been inhaling nitrite compounds. Eventually they are able to confirm this when one of the team talks with friends who are leaving after a visit with Kevin.

When the physician confronts Kevin with this information, Kevin pleads with him to not tell his parents. His parents have been regular visitors and appear to be very concerned about their son’s condition. They have repeatedly asked the doctors to explain what is happening.

Several follow-up discussions with Kevin have not changed his mind; he does not want his parents to know anything about his drug abuse history. “You are my doctor aren’t you? That means what I tell you is just between you and me, doesn’t it?”

The physicians and rest of the team are unsure how to answer him. They do not know whether they should respect Kevin’s wishes in this regard.

At the suggestion of the team, the charge nurse has requested an ethics consultation. How will you prepare for this consult? What are the key ethics issues?

88. Case: Whose Problem Is It?

Case substantially modified from “Obesity in Kids: When Appeals to Vanity Don’t Work,” Virtual Mentor 8(10): 377-380, October 2006 – see virtualmentor.ama-assn.org

Nicholas has the option of spending the summer in an intensive weight reduction program at a health facility in Ontario. This highly regarded program accepts only 10 adolescents each summer, based on medical problems related to obesity. Nicholas has cardiomegaly, hypertension and pre-diabetes. At 14, Nicholas is 5 feet 7 inches tall and currently weighs 285 pounds.

The health team caring for Nicholas is quite concerned about him and believes that this program would be a great option. While traveling to Ontario and being separated from his family might be hard, the weight reduction program would likely have a very positive benefit on Nicholas’s health.

Indeed, one of the health team members, Matthew, feels strongly about this as he recalls what it was like to be the “fat kid” in class, putting up with the teasing and ridicule. After a family meeting, Matthew is almost incredulous that Nicholas isn’t sure about the program and that his parents aren’t really pushing him to go. He’s overheard saying to Nicholas’s mother on the way out of the meeting that, “I can’t believe that you aren’t sending him to the program. It’s his only chance! Any good parent would send their child.”

Amy, the team social worker, has been meeting with Nicholas and his parents and she shares a different perspective. Amy has noted that Nicholas isn’t really bothered by his weight in the way some other people are. He has his first girlfriend, is pretty popular, and doesn’t get teased very often by his peers (about his weight, at least). His parents are also ok with his body size. While they appreciate his health problems, they are really concerned that an (over)emphasis on his weight might hurt his self-esteem and cause him to lose focus on who he is as a whole person.

Further discussion among team members makes it clear that there is deep disagreement about how to proceed in this case. Should they put more pressure on Nicholas and/or his parents to agree to the camp? Is this over-stepping their role as health care providers? All agree that an ethics perspective would likely be helpful and give the clinical ethics consultation line a call.

86. Case: Herbs in the Hospital

Katrina Chen is a 23 year old with a history of severe anxiety and hospitalization after particularly acute panic attacks.  She has tried a variety of psychotropic medications and of these she believes that Prozac is the best at managing her symptoms.  She is concerned, however, with its addictive nature and doesn’t like taking “chemicals”.

She has recently started working with a naturopathic doctor (ND) with the goal of getting off Prozac.  Her naturopath has compounded a herbal remedy to treat her anxiety, explaining that it contains primarily valerian as the active ingredient, and she has also begun biofeedback treatments.  Katrina feels that the valerian has been effective in reducing the severity of her symptoms and was planning on reducing her dosage of Prozac.

Katrina has been hospitalized again after a panic attack and is requesting that the hospital provide her with the valerian in addition to her Prozac prescription.  She has no family in the area and a minimal social network such that she has no other way to obtain valerian.  The fact that she does not have access to valerian seems to be increasing her agitation and anxiety.

The health care team is concerned about several aspects of this case.  They’ve come to you with the following questions:

  1. Is the hospital obligated to provide alternative therapies in response to such requests by patients?
  2. Is the team obligated to provide valerian with Prozac given a potential risk of adverse interactions between the two compounds?
  3. If there seems to be very little good evidence that valerian is effective as a treatment for anxiety, should the team actively discourage Katrina from taking it?