95. Case: MAiD and Depressive Disorder

An assumption for the purposes of the case – these circumstances are happening in the perhaps not-too-distant future after the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down Bill C-14’s ‘reasonably foreseeable death’ criterion.

Sally York is a 54 year-old, single, unemployed woman who has a longstanding history of treatment-resistant major depressive disorder. Her mother experienced recurrent major depressive episodes throughout her adulthood, and one of her paternal uncles was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. Sally experienced her first major depressive episode at the age of 11½ while she was transitioning through puberty. In the last 15 years, she has experienced multiple, persistent, disabling depressive symptoms including: significant depressive dysphoria, obsessive negative rumination, intense social anxiety, heightened irritability, lack of interest in normal activities of daily living and her former hobbies, impaired concentration and focus, reduced appetite and with associated difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, prolonged, early morning waking, and suicidal ideation. Sally has been followed by numerous psychiatrists and clinical psychologists over her lifetime, and she has been trialed on a wide variety of treatment modalities including three generations of antidepressant medications and multiple augmentation agents (atypical antipsychotics, anticonvulsant medications, mood stabilizers and T3 thyroid medication). She has been actively engaged in courses of many different types of psychotherapy including supportive, insight-oriented, cognitive-behavioural, interpersonal and mindfulness-based types. She has tried and failed transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment. Although Sally has been offered trials of ECT, she has never wished to pursue this treatment intervention due to her mother’s reports of bad experiences with it in the years before her death. She was involuntarily hospitalized on four occasions in the past because of temporary formed suicidal intent.

Sally’s other active health conditions include irritable bowel syndrome, chronic mixed migraine-tension headaches, and chronic, significant shoulder girdle myofascial pain. Her chronic pain remains active despite trials of physiotherapy, massage therapy, exercise therapy, myofascial trigger-point injections, regular opioid medication, and a neuropathic pain modulator. A former attending psychiatrist believed that there was a component of somatic symptom disorder in Sally’s chronic pain presentation.

Sally’s quality of life has greatly deteriorated over the past four years due to her combined experience of persistent depression and chronic pain, although the latter has been less disabling than the former. This symptomatic worsening correlated with her financially-based decision (after leaving work for medical reasons) to move to a remote area of the Valley that is close to where her mother grew up. Without the direct support of a cognitive-behavioural therapist, Sally stopped doing her cognitive-behavioural exercises and slipped back into her former ways of looking at the world through the typical cognitive-distortions of depressed individuals, e.g., all-or-nothing thinking, mindreading, minimization of positives, etc. She spends most of her days in bed and struggles to get out of her small, government-subsidized apartment once a week to visit an elderly aunt. A friendly neighbour shops for her at the local supermarket once a week. Her medications are delivered to her by taxi through an arrangement with a pharmacy located in a nearby village. Although her medications are delivered in blister packs, she forgets to take them sometimes.

Sally has heard that MAiD is now legal in Canada but she doesn’t know much about it. She asks a cousin who lives in the nearest town, and who worked as a palliative care nurse in Halifax prior to his recent retirement, to come-by for coffee. Sally uses her enhanced knowledge from the conversation with her cousin to prepare herself for a visit to her family physician.



  • What is your gut reaction on a ‘first read’ of these circumstances?
  • Can legitimate distinctions be made between the experience of profound suffering arising from physical health disorders and the experience of profound suffering arising from mental health disorders?
  • How could the psychiatric symptomatology and related lived-experiences of a person with a significant mental health disorder affect her/his capacity to make a decision regarding a personal request for MAiD.
  • Are there particular mental health disorders that would preclude the making of an informed choice to request MAiD?
  • What is currently known about the capacity of individuals who suffer from treatment-resistant major depressive disorder as this pertains to their making of meaningful decisions about their health care and treatment?

61. CASE: Ending the Fluoridation of Water – A Public Meeting

The local town council has received a petition signed by more than 500 residents requesting the discontinuation of fluoride in the town’s water supply. Before making a decision on the matter, the council has decided to hold a “town hall” meeting to seek more input and help to educate its members and the audience about the evidence on both sides of the debate.

As the Public Health officer for the area, you have been invited to be a member of the panel in charge of this meeting. Other panel members include the mayor, a local dentist, a family doctor, and the two residents who initiated the petition. On the night of the meeting, the local fire hall is at capacity; the mayor who is chairing the panel asks the two residents to begin the discussion by presenting their concerns with regard to water fluoridation. They make the following remarks:

Resident 1: “Everyone says fluoride in the water prevents cavities. What about looking at what causes the cavities in the first place- junk food, pop, sugary snacks and juices are all stuff that parents should be limiting. Why should we all be forced to ingest fluoride in our water because some parents aren’t doing their job? Like everything else, we are what we eat. Good health starts with what we put on the end of our forks- that is how I raised my children. In addition, a routine oral program and thorough brushing is key to any successful prevention.For those that want to provide their kids with fluoride, there are many readily available treatments and over the counter products.I am a victim of too much fluoride because I chose to eat healthy and drink lots of water. Fluoride severely damaged my thyroid and I am now forced to take pharmaceutical drugs for the remainder of my life.

Fluoride is not only in our water (which is also absorbed through the skin), it is used as a pesticide on our food crops, and even organic food crops could be contaminated if watered with fluoridated city tap water. All beverages produced with water, reconstituted juices, contain fluoride, and for those that still receive fluoride treatments at the dentist, brush three times per day with fluoridated toothpaste and maybe even use fluoridated mouthwash, well, that is FAR MORE than any health organization (CDC, EPA or Health Canada) recommends.

I cannot remove fluoride from my water and am therefore forced to purchase distilled water to use for drinking and cooking. I am one of the lucky ones, as I am able to afford to do this. I was never asked if I wanted this industrial waste dumped into my water supply- it was a decision made for me without my consent or even any input. It was a decision made a long time ago and now it needs to undone.”

Resident 2: “I am for choice. So I would rather choose whether or not I drink a toxic chemical. I think that by giving me no choice, the city is not doing me any favours. I have done my own research, and there is very little credibility on the side that says “fluoridate the water.” Instead many experts say fluoride works best as a topical treatment. Bang on. Use it topically then, by choice, don’t force me to ingest it. I use a fluoride rinse and it has absolutely 100% made a difference in my dental health. I have not changed my diet or oral hygiene habits except for the addition of this rinse, but 4 years strong now with no new cavities. Cavities used to plague me with at least a couple new ones a year. I feel that this should be a personal choice, and if people are concerned about costs for poor communities/people then perhaps a subsidy for toothpaste or fluoride tablets is the answer (but only if those people want to purchase the items).One should also keep in mind the effect of excess fluoride on growing teeth. What if your child really likes water and ingests a lot of fluoridated water? Even dentists admit it’s only useful in the right doses. Fluoride is carcinogenic, so I would like to see statistics on cancer rates vs. fluoridation in the region. Plus, fluoride has been linked to lots of other serious conditions, but we are not told about all that – just that it prevents cavities. The jury is out on whether that is actually true. There are countries who do not add fluoride to their drinking water but their rate of cavities is as good or better than ours. So what is that about?! The town could be saving a ton of money each year by not putting fluoride in the water. It’s a smart move in my opinion.”

  • Identify the conflicting values that are relevant to this discussion and select the ones that will guide your response. What is the basis of your choice(s)?
  • As the public health officer, how will you respond to these statements?

Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Respect for autonomy
  • Community/ public health ethics
  • Compliance with policy
  • Patient safety
  • Community relationships
  • Consent
  • Risk
  • Social justice

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

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

3. CASE: Superbugs

Jeannette Cutler is an 83-year old woman admitted to hospital after falling and breaking her arm.  She reports that she fell because she passed out, and so further investigations are being conducted.  She has mild dementia but is otherwise seemingly healthy.  Upon admission, she screens positive for MRSA and is subject to strict isolation procedures as per hospital policy.

Jeannette was a long-time volunteer at the hospital where she is now a patient. Jeannette is having trouble adhering to the isolation protocol, and several times a day she gets up and starts going into other patients’ rooms to “visit”.  The team has had discussions with her regarding the need for her to remain in her room, but they have failed to achieve the desired effect.

Staff is concerned that she is spreading MRSA and are considering various means of confining her to her room.  They aren’t sure how best to express respect for Jeannette while also ensuring that other patients are not unnecessarily exposed to harm.  They have contacted the ethics committee and the legal department asking for help in working through this case.

  • What ethics concerns are you thinking about as you respond?
  • Who should be involved in making this decision?
  • What are some competing values that arise in this case?
  • Should the well-being of others take precedence over Jeannette’s freedom of     mobility?
  • What potential creative solutions can you think of to resolve this issue?

 Some Values and Ethics Issues to Consider

  • Respect for individual liberty
  • Patient-centered care
  • Distributive justice
  • Policy compliance
  • Respect for autonomy
  • Responsibility for health
  • Quality of life
  • Respect for dignity
  • Capacity
  • Beneficence and non-maleficence