64. CASE: Implementing an Anti-Obesity Strategy

The local health district is in the final stages of adopting a comprehensive organizational anti-obesity policy. Its development was led by a working group of diverse stakeholders from across the district and included an extensive consultation process.

One aspect of the policy that generated a lot of discussion and debate at the working group was the suggestion that messaging should be designed to increase stigma and social pressure around obesity.  This strategy was defended recently in a leading bioethics journal and has been implemented in other jurisdictions.  Ultimately the group was convinced to include this suggestion in the policy because of the success that such messages had in decreasing smoking rates.

Prior to ratifying the new policy, senior leadership requested that the district medical advisory committee review it.  One of these reviewers is clearly upset by the policy; he sent feedback in very personal terms implying that increasing stigma and social pressure around obesity made the policy unreasonable and unethical.

  • What values are relevant to the policy issues under consideration?
  • Why would the reviewer deem the policy to be unethical?
  • What are the conflicting values among the reviewer and the policy makers?
  • Is there other information you would like to have before responding to the reviewer?
  • How will you (the working committee) respond to the reviewer and why?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Empathy
  • Respect for autonomy
  • Respect for dignity
  • Community health ethics
  • Living at risk
  • Organizational ethics
  • Compliance with policy
  • Social justice
  • Social determinants of health
  • Responsibility for health
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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

14. CASE: I Want to Go Home!

A widower (age 88) lives alone, but has family living nearby. Recently he had a stroke and regained consciousness after being admitted to hospital. He was deemed to have cognitive capacity.

His adult children approached the physician in charge of his case along with the unit’s Nurse Manager and requested that the patient be placed in a nursing home. The patient was clear and firm in his desire to return to his own home.

The team has requested a clinical ethics consult.

  • What are the main ethics issues at stake here?
  • What steps would you take to help the patient, family and health care team come to a decision?
  • How should risk and quality of life be balanced/reconciled in this situation?
  • Who else should be a part of this discussion?


Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Capacity
  • Patient-family relationships
  • Substitute decision-making
  • Living at risk
  • Patient-centered care
  • Empathy
  • Patient safety
  • Community health ethics
  • Respect for patient autonomy
  • Respect for individual liberty
  • Respect for human dignity
  • Quality of life

4. CASE: Expectations for Care

Ned is an elderly patient with relatively advanced dementia who is recovering from surgery to repair a hip fracture. He spends most of every 24-hour period screaming unless someone familiar sits with him. Staff members on the unit are becoming increasingly frustrated and stressed. The unit manager has received numerous complaints, verbal and written, from other patients on the unit and from some of their family members. She decides to call the ethics line.

  • What are the ethics issues?
  • What are the non-ethics issues?
  • What underlying values are at stake?
  • How would you respond to this call?

 Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Moral distress among health care providers
  • Distributive justice
  • Resource allocation
  • Patient-centered care
  • Capacity
  • Empathy
  • Respect for human dignity
  • Quality of life