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?

Advertisements

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?

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:

 

 

62. CASE: Formula Feeding Resource Book

Andrew Godwin is a relatively new staff person working for Public Health. He is learning about the WHO Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes and the importance of promoting breastfeeding as a norm in Nova Scotia, as part of the Healthy Eating Strategy.

He has received several phone calls from new parents asking him why the province’s formula feeding resource book is not online and requesting him to consider adding it to the electronic resources. What should Andrew do?

  • Identify the values that are relevant to this discussion and select the ones that you think should guide Andrew’s response. 
  • Would it be appropriate to post this booklet online? Why or why not?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Duty to provide care
  • Honesty, trust and truth-telling
  • Respect for autonomy
  • Transparency
  • Community/ public health ethics
  • Compliance with policy
  • Patient-centred care

60. CASE: Health Care Providers Under Quarantine

My story starts in early April, during a routine day shift in our minor care area. A previously well middle-aged man, recently returned from Hong Kong, presented with fever. Because SARS was already recognized and we’d gone through the recent experience of a crash intubation with our first case at Vancouver General, this patient was isolated at the triage area and we gowned and masked to examine him. Apart from a temperature of 37.8°C, his vital signs were normal and he looked well. He had no other symptoms, and his physical examination, CBC, urinalysis, and chest x-ray were all normal. Although the patient did not fulfill the case definition of SARS then in existence, I kept him in isolation just in case. When I went in to give him discharge instructions, I did not wear a mask and stood just inside the doorway, about two meters from him. Almost predictably, he returned with the full SARS syndrome just over 24 hours later. And wouldn’t you know it, by then, the case definition of SARS had changed!

I briefly wondered if I could pretend I was not in his room unmasked, but the thought of potentially disseminating a lethal virus persuaded me to do my civic duty and tell my boss. Two hours later Public Health phoned to inform me I was officially quarantined. Needless to say, my husband, also a physician, was incredulous and my kids were terrified. I thought it was kind of funny for the first day, like someone was playing a bad joke. Then the reality began to hit home, and I can tell you the reality was difficult to live with. This is what Public Health told me.

  • I must stay inside my house (preferably within my bedroom) 24 hours a day
  • I must not touch anyone in my family
  • I must wear an N95 mask if anyone is in the same room as me
  • I must not prepare uncooked food for my family
  • I must not sleep with my husband
  • I must use a separate bathroom
  • I must not touch anything in the house that the kids might later touch
  • I must not use the family computer or the main phone
  • I cannot have outside visitors
  • I cannot shop for groceries
  • I cannot go for a walk

The quarantine requirements were not voluntary, but were enforced by Public Health, who contacted me daily to gauge my cooperation. If I did not comply, it was clear that I would be legally compelled to do so. All this took place under the shadow of potentially transmitting SARS to my family, the people I love more than anything in the world. My nine days of quarantine were a blur of extreme boredom, some highly emotional episodes, and a re-evaluation of what I do for a living. One of our daughters moved out for the duration. Another celebrated her 16th birthday without a hug, cake or present from her housebound mother. And my son told me daily how much he wanted a snuggle. I felt guilty that my colleagues, all of whom are already overworked, had to pick up extra shifts to cover me during my enforced absence. As if all this were not enough, it slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t earning any income, and would have to put in extra shifts after my quarantine was over. I decided I never wanted to see another N95 mask again…

What did I learn from my experience? First, it is very isolating and lonely to be isolated. I hugely appreciated the calls and emails I received from my colleagues while I was off. It helped enormously to know they were thinking of me, and didn’t think this was my fault. Second, I think all emergency physicians should consider the financial implications of a sudden enforced quarantine. None of us have disability insurance that would commence quickly enough. To be under quarantine is difficult enough without the added burden of a financial penalty. Although I suffered an occupational exposure, I was not covered by Workers’ Compensation. I believe we need to negotiate with our hospitals and governments to put financial packages in place. Many hospitals are starting to compensate self-employed health care workers for income missed during quarantine. I would go further and suggest a per diem rate for days confined due to occupational exposures. Although no one can compensate me enough for nine lost days of my life, a token payment certainly wouldn’t hurt. Finally, as emergency physicians we do a far more difficult and noble job than I had ever realized. The consequences of what we do to care for our patients and protect the public are risks that put ourselves and our families in potential danger. This is something we never think about or acknowledge, but maybe we should. And maybe we should celebrate ourselves more than we do. I have huge admiration for my emergency medicine colleagues who had far worse exposures than I did in the early phase of the SARS crisis.

  • What values are involved here and for whom?
  • What ethical considerations have to be balanced in such quarantine situations? How is the most appropriate balance achieved?
  • How would you respond to this physician’s concerns? Do you feel there is any legitimacy to her complaints?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Duty to provide a safe work environment
  • Duty to provide care
  • Respect for individual liberty
  • Community/ public health ethics
  • Consent
  • Disclosure of adverse events
  • Health care provider relationships
  • Risk
  • Patient safety
  • Compliance with policy
  • Disclosure of adverse events
  • Non-maleficence
  • Privacy and confidentiality

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

53. CASE: Disease Stigma

A patient has been followed by you, his family doctor, for several medical issues and is being seen for a minor work-related injury. He is very negative and tearful but will not acknowledge his symptoms when asked.

You believe he is depressed and you know you can provide treatment for his depression. However, the patient is uncomfortable seeking treatment or having you document your findings in his record because of the stigmatizing effect of having a mental health disorder known in a remote community.

  • What steps should you take to address his depression?
  • What factors external to your family practice must be considered?
  • Do you think that it is likely or unlikely that the patient’s concerns about confidentiality are valid?
  • What policies and procedures should be in place to maintain privacy and confidentiality in rural communities. How should these be enforced?


Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • Respect for patient autonomy
  • Community and family relationships
  • Respect for human dignity
  • Honesty, trust and truth-telling
  • Patient-provider relationships
  • Patient safety
  • Stigma
  • Vulnerability
  • Equality of access

50. CASE: Overlapping Relationships

During a routine physical examination at your rural practice, one of your teenage patients shares that he has seen another teenage patient using cocaine at your neighbour’s house.

  • What are your ethical responsibilities as a physician?
  • What are your ethical responsibilities to your neighbour? The law?
  • Do these roles conflict?
  • How would you proceed in this situation and why?
  • How are the ethics issues in this case affected by the rural context?


Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Community and family relationships
  • Compliance with policies and procedures
  • Respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • Overlapping roles and responsibilities
  • Patient-provider relationships
  • Professional boundaries
  • Honesty, trust and truth-telling

49. CASE: Reality Check?

A clerk and resident are frustrated after a morning of taking histories from and doing physical examinations of patients referred to the GI Clinic. As you (the attending clinic gastroenterologist) are going over the morning’s work with them, the clerk and resident complain that most of the patients seem to have less clinically significant symptoms and physical findings than were described by their attending family physicians in the referral notes to the clinic.

They start an argument (which looks to you like it’s on its third round) about whether it’s the patients or the referring physicians who are responsible. Adding to their frustration, the Department Head interrupted them just as the clerk was beginning with one patient – who she was already thinking might be the healthiest person she’d seen in her entire rotation – and insisted on doing the history and physical himself. The resident, who recently arrived from out of province, gets some local information from the clerk, who tells him the significance of that particular patient’s family name (major regular contributor to the Hospital Foundation).

The clerk thinks several of the morning’s problematic referrals came from the same family physician, and that there should be repercussions for that physician, e.g., putting his patients at the bottom of the waiting list, or calling him up to complain. The resident defends the referring physician and speculates that it’s the patients who are causing the problem.

You’re wondering how to get them to focus on something more productive and professional.

  • Should you communicate to them that practice in the real world is like this, and that they should get on to the next patient? Or is this a teachable moment in some way?
  • Is this a clinical practice issue or an ethics issue? 

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Resource allocation
  • Compliance with policies and procedures
  • Respect for professional integrity
  • Patient-provider relationships
  • Health care provider relationships
  • Honesty, trust and truth-telling
  • Professional boundaries