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?

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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.

84. Case: Who’s Who

 

Pierre is a representative with a company that manufactures devices for use in joint-replacement surgeries.  He is often present in surgeries when his company’s products are being used.  Recently, as a patient was being wheeled into the operating suite the patient asked the surgeon who Pierre was and why he was there.  The nurse explained that Pierre was a with a device manufacturer and was there to provide support if needed.  The patient then asked, “But isn’t that a conflict of interest?”

Is there a conflict of interest?  How should the nurse respond to the patient?  And what should the hospital include in a policy designed to address these types of situations?

 


Resources:

 

83. Case: Strings Attached

 

A local business owner and philanthropist, whose parent recently died after living with Huntington disease for 15 years, approaches the hospital foundation to offer a significant donation in exchange for creating a new neurological research centre which would be named in memory of the philanthropist’s parent.  The hospital has identified its area of greatest need as improving access to primary care for patients in the remote communities it serves, but the donor is not interested in contributing to that mandate.

Is the hospital in a conflict of interest?  What is the nature of the potential conflict of interest?

 


Resources:

82. Case: Setting Up Shop

 

Arya is an occupational therapist who provides support for children with autism spectrum disorder.  She frequently recommends sensory integration tools to parents, but most of these are only available online through US-based websites and often that is a barrier for parents.  She is considering starting a side business importing and selling these products, but is aware that there will likely be a perceived conflict of interest.  Arya approaches her manager for guidance.

If disclosure is not enough to eliminate the perception of conflict of interest, what could Arya do?  If the perceived conflict of interest cannot be effectively managed, what should Arya do to meet her patients’ needs?

 


Resources:

81. Case: Lending A Helping Hand

 

Alison is a nurse who is working in an endocrine clinic part-time while also working on her Ph.D.  She is studying two different approaches to patient education about diabetes management.  She is putting together her research ethics application.  Alison makes a case for the logistical necessity of her being involved in recruiting patients. Her colleague and friend, Jason, will also help to recruit patients for the study.  Alison proposes that she will disclose that the research is for her Ph.D and that the patient’s decision about participation will not affect care, but Alison and Jason aren’t sure about what Jason should tell patients about their relationship.

Do you think that Jason has a conflict of interest?  If so, how should it be managed?  And does Alison’s disclosure adequately address concerns about her conflict of interest?

 


Resources:

80. Case: Less Talk

 

David is a patient waiting in a treatment room at a walk-in clinic.  He can hear the physician chatting and laughing with someone outside, and from the conversation he guesses that the physician is talking with a pharmaceutical sales representative.  David has been waiting for almost two hours with a high fever.  As the conversation outside continues, David becomes increasingly angry.

Do you think that the physician might have a conflict of interest?  If so, how should it be managed?

 


Resources:

79. Case: It’s the Little Things

 

A patient asks your colleague, Arya, “Where are you from?”  When Arya replies, “Winnipeg,” the patient says, “Oh, but where are you from originally?”  Arya, whose family immigrated to Canada before she was born, is clearly frustrated by this.  You were present during the exchange and were uncomfortable but didn’t know what to say at the time.

Discussion:

  • What are the ethical concerns raised by this case?
  • What might you say to Arya afterward?
  • How might your employer support Arya in addressing these sort of situations?

 

 Resources:

 

 

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