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.



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?


85. Case: Adam’s Story

Adam Snowdon, a 16 year-old Sydney boy, was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) 18 months ago.  The disease has progressed rapidly over the past three months and over this period Adam has quickly begun losing the ability to use his right arm to the point now where it is no longer effectively functional.  He is also beginning to have difficulty standing and walking and is showing early signs of respiratory, swallowing and speech problems.  His doctors speculate that Adam will die within a year and that in the months prior to that he will likely become “locked in” and unable to communicate at all.

Adam has always been a rambunctious boy.  He has had numerous behavioral issues throughout his childhood, proving to be quite a handful for his parents.  He has run away from home several times, has been suspended various times and expelled from two schools. Adam has also been detained by the police on four occasions for possession of alcohol and marijuana.

Adam is currently living at home in Sydney with his mother Nancy Snowdon and older brother David who just turned 17.  Nancy works part time as a school librarian.  She has full-time custody of her two sons.  Nancy has been suffering from clinical depression for several months now.  She has been under emotional strain since Adam became ill.  She is currently taking antidepressant medication and is receiving counseling from a chartered psychologist.  Through this treatment appears to be helping Nancy, she is still struggling to cope.  On a few occasions she has missed appointments with Adam’s doctor, simply feeling unable to face the situation on her “bad days”.  On those occasions Adam missed his appointments altogether as he shows no initiative in attending his medical appointments on his own.

Adam’s health care providers have not been able to establish a trusting relationship with him.  They find it generally difficult to engage him in conversation, and he is especially uncomfortable discussing the ALS.  He refuses to discuss the details of how his disease will progress or his preferences regarding options such as ventilators etc.  He has, however, stated emphatically that he has no intention of allowing them to “put him in the hospital do die”.

Adam’s father, Ted Snowdon, is an engineer in Alberta.  He and Nancy divorced relatively amicably when Adam and David were nine and ten respectively.  Mr. Snowdon has not played much of a role in the lives of both of his sons after the divorce but he visits every summer and they all go camping.  He has remarried to Clarice Snowdon who has shown little interest in the boys.  Since Adam’s diagnosis, Mr. Snowdon has been flying out to Sydney regularly to be involved with decisions around organizing care for Adam. Mr. Snowdon feels strongly that decisions about Adam’s future care need to be made immediately.

Dr. Kerrigan is Adam’s family physician.  She is concerned that Adam’s condition is getting worse very rapidly and is anxious about the decisions that will have to be made about Adam’s care.  In particular, Dr. Kerrigan is worried about the relationships within the family.  She knows that Mr. Snowdon feels strongly that his son should be hospitalized and eventually ventilated.  He has stated that Adam is “too young” to know what he wants and is worried that Nancy is not able to handle keeping Adam at home, even with home care support.  Dr. Kerrigan is concerned that Mr. Snowdon will dominate the decision-making process at the critical time and that Adam’s and his mother’s wishes may be overridden or altogether neglected.  Beyond her concerns about the family dynamics, she is uncertain as to Adam’s decision-making capacity – and Mrs. Snowdon’s for that matter – and is also unclear on the more basic question of who ought to be making decisions about Adam’s care.

Since Adam became ill he has been seeing a neurologist at the local hospital, Dr. Watson, and Dr. Kerrigan are in touch frequently regarding Adam’s care and have discussed Dr. Kerrigan’s concerns around the family dynamics and the decision making that will need to occur in providing end of life care for Adam.  Dr. Watson has requested a consult from the hospital ethics committee.  Mr. Snowdon and his wife have flown in from Calgary just for this meeting.  Adam was asked to participate in the meeting but he flatly refused, saying he wanted to spend time with some of his friends instead.

Participants’ Roles:

Ethics consultant #1 (facilitator)

Ethics consultant #2 (ethics facilitator)

Ethics consultant #3 (recorder)

Nancy Snowdon (Adam’s mother):  Very concerned about her son’s welfare.  Feeling overwhelmed, isn’t sure what to do.

Mr. Ted Snowdon (Adam’s father):  Skeptical of Adam’s decision making capacity and can’t understand why Adam is acting the way he is.

David Snowdon (Adam’s 17 year old brother):  David is scared, angry with both parents, worried about Adam, and worried about his own life. Most of all, he wants peace for Adam.

Dr. Watson (neurologist):  wary of the complex relational issues at stake, as well as the challenges of making decisions for young ALS patients like Adam.  Wants to make decisions as soon as possible before Adam is no longer able to express his own views.  Feels in over his/her head, wants the committee to get this sorted out as much as possible.  Dr. Watson has been developing an interest in bioethics and is considering becoming a member of the ethics committee.

Dr. Kerrigan (family physician):  Concerned about the toll this is taking on Nancy, Adam and David.  Worried that Mr. Snowdon is driving discussions around care.

Jamie Lee (patient services coordinator):  Has been taking a bioethics course and is eager to apply her/his newly developed skills.

78. Case: Health Care for New Canadians


Ahmed arrived recently in Canada as a refugee from Syria.  He was diagnosed in the refugee clinic with prostate cancer and has arrived for a follow-up visit.  The interpreter has called in sick and Ahmed speaks very little English.  Ahmed’s 13-year-old son, Bashir, has accompanied him and is acting as a translator for his father.  The health care team at the clinic would like to make some decisions today about treatment approaches, but Bashir seems uncomfortable with translating both questions and responses.



  • What are the ethical concerns raised by this case?
  • As a member of the health care team, how would you proceed?
  • What types of refugee health resources might be developed to support patients, families, and health care teams?



74. Case: Compulsive Hoarding – Mary

Mary is a 72 year old woman who has been a compulsive hoarder for the last 10 years.  She can only move from room to room through pathways. She would like to move closer to her daughter and grandchildren, but she feels overwhelmed by the amount of stuff she has in her house. Despite the family’s efforts to help, her previous attempts to clean out her home have been unsuccessful. Mary has outpatient orthopedic surgery scheduled, and follow-up care will be provided in her home.  This is causing Mary anxiety and she is considering cancelling the surgery due to the shame she feels about the state of her home.*

*(Case adapted from Cermele, JA et al. (2001). “Intervention in Compulsive Hoarding: A Case Study”. Behavior Modification 25.2: 214-232.)

What are some of the important details in this case that would help you determine how to approach Mary and discuss her concerns?

What are the key ethical concerns if Mary decides to cancel the surgery?

What are the ethical concerns about follow-up care in this case?

What options do you have to address the ethical concerns about follow-up care?


Some values and ethics issues to consider:

Respect for Autonomy

Quality of life

Quality of care

Boundary crossing

Trust relationship



Gibson, Amanda K.; Jessica Rasmussen; Gail Steketee; Randy Frost; David Tolin. 2010. Ethical Considerations in the Treatment of Compulsive Hoarding. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice. Vol. 17, Issue 4:p. 426-438. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1077722910000945

Frost, Randy O.; Gail Steketee. 2014. The Oxford Handbook of Hoarding and Acquiring. Oxford University Press. 2014.

Koenig, Terry L Chapin, Rosemary Spano, Richard. 2010. Using multidisciplinary teams to address ethical dilemmas with older adults who hoard. Journal of Gerontological Social Work. February 2010; Vol. 53(2):137-147.

National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE). Compulsive Hoarding: The ethical dimensions. http://www.nicenet.ca/tools-compulsive-hoarding-the-ethical-dimensions)

Tompkins, Michael A..2014. ‘4.5 Ethical and legal considerations when helping a client with severe hoarding’. In, Clinician’s guide to severe hoarding: A harm reduction approach. Springer. November 2014.

67. Case: What is Angela’s Choice?

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 he 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?

63. CASE: Breastfeeding Concerns

Natasha is 15 years old and you, an RN, are meeting her for the first time at a prenatal visit. Her boyfriend, Josh, is 17. Natasha is planning on feeding her baby breast milk substitute as she thinks it will be easier. She has heard that it is harder to lose “baby weight” while breastfeeding, and is worried about fitting into her bikini this summer. She also tells you that she has heard that breastfeeding makes breasts saggy and is worried that Josh won’t be attracted to her anymore. Her mother, on the other hand, is pressuring her to breastfeed.

  • What values are at play here and for whom?
  • Are there any ethics issues in this situation?
  • How would you continue the discussion with Natasha?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Respect for autonomy
  • Patient-family relationships
  • Patient-centred care
  • Responsibility for health
  • Stigma and blame

57. CASE: Caregiver Stress

Dr. Morrison has been the only physician in his small community of 1,500 people for about 15 years and is known as the “Town Doc.” When he first moved to town, he quickly became friends with many people and involved in the community. However, the longer he practiced, the more awkward his social life became.

He helped coach the baseball team for several years. But then he treated one of the boys on the team for chlamydia and the boy stopped coming to practice. Dr. Morrison didn’t sign up to coach the following year. He began to turn down social invitations, as more friends became patients. Eventually he began to feel burdened and overworked but unable to decrease his workload. He attended to numerous horrific farm and motor vehicle accidents, often as the only provider for multiple patients, resulting in increasing mental trauma and distress.

He felt indebted to the community but also began to feel resentful. Where he once took pride in the fact that people looked to him for support, he began to feel overwhelmed and useless. He recognized that he was depressed but had no idea where to turn for help. His patients began to notice that he seemed tired and irritable. At the nearby critical access hospital, where Dr. Morrison is affiliated, the administrators were increasingly concerned about his ability to practice and feared he might even resign.

[From Rural Health Ethics: A Manual for Trainers. William Nelson & Karen Schifferdecker. https://geiselmed.dartmouth.edu/cfm/resources/ethics/%5D

  • What, if anything, should the administrators say or do?
  • What steps can rural health care providers take to avoid isolation and burnout?
  • What steps can rural health administrators and community leaders take to avoid isolation and burnout among their health care providers?
  • What resources could Dr. Morrison access to assist in this situation?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Community and family relationships
  • Respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • Resource allocation
  • Patient-provider relationships
  • Professional boundaries
  • Honesty, trust and truth-telling
  • Duty to provide care
  • Moral distress among health care providers
  • Overlapping roles and responsibilities

56. CASE: Family Friends/ Family Doc

Dr. Jones has been a close friend of the Smith family since coming to town 18 years ago. The Smith’s oldest child, Sally (15 years), has come to the office to have a physical to be on her school’s track team. Her mother has brought her to the office, but as usual, Dr. Jones sees Sally alone.

After taking the history and doing an exam, it is evident that Sally wants to talk about something. In response to a question about whether she has started dating, she explains that she has been dating JJ for the last six months. She says that she really likes him a lot, and although they “haven’t done it yet, they have been thinking about it a lot.” She is wondering if she could start taking birth control pills.

Sally also explains that her parents do not know anything about it. She said that when she has tried to talk with her mother, her mom just, “got weird—talking about babies having babies, and nobody having morals any more.” She says her mother would be very upset if she knew Sally was talking about it, and asks that this information not get back to her parents.

[From Rural Health Ethics: A Manual for Trainers. William Nelson & Karen Schifferdecker. http://geiselmed.dartmouth.edu/cfm/resources/manual/manual.pdf%5D

  • Is it ethical to prescribe birth control without parental permission to a patient who is below the legal age of consent for sexual activity?
  • Should Dr. Jones try to separate her role as Sally’s physician with her role as a friend of her parents?
  • What is the main ethics question in this case? What are the conflicting values?
  • How should Dr. Jones proceed and why?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Community and family relationships
  • Respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • Patient-provider relationships
  • Professional boundaries
  • Honesty, trust and truth-telling
  • Duty to provide care
  • Overlapping roles and responsibilities

55. CASE: What is My Obligation?

A family physician in a small, remote community assesses a patient, who is a local schoolteacher, as developing a post-partum psychosis. He feels he lacks adequate training or experience to manage her care.

He recommends she seek treatment at a distant large mental health centre but she refuses to travel to the centre because of the distance involved. He feels uncertain about caring for the patient when the treatment is outside his area of competency.

  • How should the physician proceed with the patient’s care? Should he treat the patient when he feels it is is outside his area of competency?
  • If the patient is unwilling to disclose her health issues to her employer, as a healthcare professional and/or a member of the community, should the physician report them to school authorities?
  • What ethics issues are at play here?
  • What resources could the physician seek to assist with this situation?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Community and family relationships
  • Respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • Patient-provider relationships
  • Professional boundaries
  • Honesty, trust and truth-telling
  • Patient safety
  • Equality of access
  • Resource allocation
  • Duty to provide care
  • Intellectual honesty
  • Respect for professional integrity
  • Professional competence
  • Overlapping roles and responsibilities

54. CASE: Professional Role

While doing a weekday home visit to an elderly patient, a VON nurse in a small community finds the patient’s son at home. The patient has mentioned that her son teaches at the local elementary school, but he has never been present during any of the nurse’s previous visits to the house.

On a weekday visit he appears to be drinking heavily and the patient seems uncomfortable and ill at ease.  During the next few weeks the son is there on several more occasions and appears to be either drunk or “hungover”. The nurse is also a member of the town’s school board.

  • What is this health professional’s responsibility to her patient? To her patient’s son?
  • What should her immediate concerns be?
  • What is her responsibility as a member of the school board?
  • How should she proceed in this situation?
  • Can/should this individual segregate her role as a nurse with her role as a school board member?
  • Should she mention what she knows about the son/teacher to her colleagues at the school board?
  • How are the ethics issues at hand affected by the rural setting?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Professional boundaries
  • Duty to provide a safe work environment
  • Living at risk
  • Duty to accommodate
  • Duty to provide care
  • Community and family relationships
  • Respect for human dignity
  • Respect for professional integrity
  • Compliance with policies and procedures
  • Respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • Overlapping roles and responsibilities
  • Patient safety