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?

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58. CASE: Harm Reduction

Medical Officers of Health from British Colombia, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan have written to advocate for emphasizing harm reduction in the approach to cannabis and other illegal drugs (including possible legalization).

“Evidence-based drug treatment programs are cost effective, and significant benefits should be derived, at both individual and societal levels, through an increase in scale. Consistent with the recent recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, this would include expanding access to existing evidence-based models of care such as medical and non-medical withdrawal programs, programs to manage concurrent mental health problems and addictions, ambulatory and residential treatment programs, and opioid substitution therapies. Similarly, given the substantial health (e.g. infectious disease, overdose death) and social (e.g. crime) concerns caused by heroin addiction in urban areas and the potential for heroin by prescription to reduce these harms among those for whom conventional treatments fail, the prescription of heroin could be considered for selected patients with opioid addiction that is refractory to all other treatment modalities.

Various harm reduction strategies, such as needle exchange programs and methadone maintenance therapy, have also proven effective in reducing drug-related harm and have not been associated with unintended consequences. The joint recommendations recently released by several United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization, provide a strong scientific basis for expanding harm reduction efforts. Beyond these recommendations, the recent consensus statement from Canada’s National Specialty Society for Community Medicine, which endorses the scale-up of supervised consumption facilities, reflects the compelling national and international evidence to support the controlled expansion of these programs in urban areas with high concentrations of public drug use and related harms.”

  • What values are being prioritized in this argument?
  • What other values, if any, might be important/relevant to consider?
  • What would you suggest if you were asked to be part of a group looking to help local government develop and prioritize approaches to similar issues?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Duty to provide care
  • Empathy
  • Respect for autonomy
  • Respect for dignity
  • Vulnerability
  • Community/ public health ethics
  • Community relationships
  • Living at risk
  • Patient-centred care
  • Patient safety
  • Quality of life
  • Resource allocation

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

51. CASE: Confidentiality and Privacy

Joanne Baker, a nurse practitioner in a small community, prescribed a partial opiate agonist to a young man, Brian, for treatment of prescription opiate dependence. Brian is talented and plays on the same soccer team as Joanne’s son.

Three weeks later, Brian is found unresponsive after an overdose of opiates, requiring intubations and medical evacuation to a city three hours away. He recovered and didn’t want others in the community to discover that he had attempted suicide. He began to spread rumours that Joanne was incompetent and prescribed a medication that she didn’t know how to use.

Another patient brought up these rumors during his own appointment with Joanne. Joanne wishes she could set the record straight, and explain that Brian obtained opiates from a provider in a neighbouring city and had taken these in large quantities in a suicide attempt. She is unsure of how to discuss the situation without breaching Brian’s patient confidentiality.

  • How should Joanne proceed in this situation?
  • How can she clear her name/ reputation without breaching confidentiality?
  • What are the competing values in this case?
  • What role/ responsibility should Brian have in the outcome of this situation?
  • What is the specific ethics conflict or question in this case?
  • How is this ethics conflict affected by the rural context?
  • What resources are available to help Joanne address the situation?


Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Professional boundaries
  • Community and family relationships
  • Respect for professional integrity
  • Compliance with policies and procedures
  • Respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • Overlapping roles and responsibilities
  • Patient-provider relationships
  • Professional competence
  • Transparency
  • Stigma
  • Vulnerability
  • Respect for human dignity

15. CASE: Acceptable Judgement?

Sara Thornton, an unemployed 19-year old woman, lives with her 28 year old sister, Fran, and Fran’s boyfriend, Alan. Both sisters were diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in their mid-adolescence. They are both estranged from their alcoholic mother, the only living parent.

Fran has learned to manage her illness reasonably well through lifestyle changes, participation in group psychotherapy sessions, and the regular use of mood stabilizer medications. She has a stable, functional relationship with Alan and works full-time as a paralegal at a local law firm.

Sara, on the other hand, ‘loves to party’ and has an established pattern of binge drinking to dangerous intoxication. She snorts cocaine several times a month. Despite her older sister’s advice, she often takes ‘drug holidays’ from her mood stabilizer medication in order to enjoy the up-shift phase of her mood cycle and to ‘get a lot of stuff done.’ She has a rather stormy relationship with her current clinical psychologist at the Bipolar Clinic of the local psychiatric hospital.

Fran was informed about psychiatric advance directives at her last visit with her private psychiatrist. She decides to complete one and provide the instruction that she wishes to be treated with antipsychotic medications and ECT if these treatment modalities are considered necessary by her psychiatrist in the event that she loses capacity and is hospitalized for her mental illness. She has a past history of refusing medications while in full-blown mania and this has delayed her recovery from these episodes. She names Alan as her proxy substitute decision-maker.

Fran encourages Sara to write a psychiatric advance directive (PAD) as well. Sara decides to name a friend of hers, who is also a person with mental illness, to be her substitute decision-maker. Because she had a bad side-effect experience with the use of an atypical antipsychotic medication during one of her manic episodes, Sara indicates in her PAD that she does not wish to receive antipsychotic medication if and when she loses the capacity to make her own health care decisions during a manic episode. Following hospital policy, Sara’s social worker forwards her completed PAD to her electronic health record.

Three months later Sara presents to the psychiatric hospital ED in full-blown, acute mania. She is threatening to kill her new boyfriend. She is admitted to hospital on an involuntary basis. The psychiatrist on her clinical unit, Dr. Control, knows both sisters from previous hospitalizations and calls Fran about her sister’s emergency admission. With support from Fran, Dr. Control challenges the validity of Sara’s PAD claiming that, in all likelihood, Sara lacked capacity when she made it. He orders intramuscular antipsychotic medication for management of Sara’s acute mania. The nurse preparing this medication for injection notices that Sara’s PAD was witnessed by her family doctor. She calls the ethics support line.

  • How would you handle this request?
  • What issues need to be considered?
  • Who should be making care decisions in this case?
  • Who should determine the validity of a personal directive?

 

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Capacity
  • Substitute decision-making
  • Respect for professional integrity
  • Respect for patient autonomy
  • Professional competence
  • Care for the vulnerable
  • Beneficence and non-maleficence
  • Advance care planning