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• Continuing Education Online Learn. Click. Done. Nationally Accredited CME / CEU / CE • • Ethical and Legal Dilemma CASE STUDY 2 ( USE THIS ONE FOR CLINICAL DISCUSSION) Patient M, a woman, 34 years of age, is in critical condition and is scheduled for emergency surgery following a severe motor vehicle accident. You have been informed that her two children have been killed in the crash. She is almost hysterical and is asking you repeatedly about the condition of her children as you prepare her for emergency surgery. Do you tell the mother the truth about her children at this time or wait until after the surgery?
The ethical principles involved are beneficence and veracity (i.e., doing what is in your patient’s best interest and telling the truth) and to a certain extent nonmaleficence. This is an emotional issue, as most ethical dilemmas are, so be careful not to get into the “what if” trap (e.g., “What if Patient M were not in a critical condition, but was still facing surgery,” or, “What if this woman was a close friend or family member?”). Remain as objective as possible when gathering facts and assessing the information and do not let emotions cause altered behavior. Other considerations are personal values. Telling the truth is a concept that varies substantially between individuals.
Personal views on absolute versus situational ethical reasoning will also affect the decision-making process and, perhaps, the definition of and decision-making use of the veracity principle. It is also very important to remember that there are other healthcare professionals to assist in the dilemma and help make a collaborative decision. The other major consideration is knowing your hospital’s policies in regard to deciding ethical issues. The groundwork should be there for you, and you should be familiar with it. If your workplace does not have policies that address making ethical decisions, you may want to refer to the suggested Guidelines for Ethical Decision Making in Patient Care, included later in this course. It may be helpful for your use and can be adapted to fit your institution. _________________________—-
CASE STUDY 1 ( EXTRA)
Nurse P is a staff nurse in the coronary care unit of a large medical center. One morning he is informed that a patient from the recovery room will soon be admitted to the coronary care unit and assigned to him. The patient, a white man, 67 years of age, with known history of myocardial infarction, also has cancer of the prostate. The initial hospital admission was for a transurethral resection, which had been aborted in the operating room when the patient developed cardiac changes following spinal anesthesia. The patient had been transported to the recovery room with the diagnosis of possible myocardial infarction and was to be transferred to the coronary care unit for management and evaluation. Nurse P heads to the recovery room with a bed to pick up the patient.
When he arrives, the patient is being coded. He had apparently gone into ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation in the recovery room and had required countershock, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), intubation, lidocaine, and vasopressors to maintain his blood pressure. A Swan-Ganz catheter was put in place. Recovery rhythm was sinus bradycardia to sinus tachycardia with occasional pauses. The patient was acidotic, in pulmonary edema by chest x-ray with an alveolar oxygen partial pressure (PaO2) of 50–60 mm Hg, a fraction of inspired oxygen (FIO2) of 100%.
During the events of the code, an attending cardiologist (Dr. D) passed by, observed the code, and made the following statement to the recovery room staff and coronary care unit resident: “Say, that’s Mr. S. I know him from his last hospitalization of 1 month ago when I was attending in coronary care unit. I believe he has a living will.” While the patient is stabilized, Dr. D calls the patient’s relative, who happens to work in another part of the medical center. The relative also expresses the belief that Mr. S has a living will and does not want to receive extraordinary support measures.
Dr. D relays this information to the other physicians, and there is general agreement that conservative measures to ensure support are indicated while the living will is located. The coronary care unit resident and Nurse P transport Mr. S to the coronary care unit. When admitted, the patient’s systolic blood pressure is 70 mm Hg while on dobutamine 8 mcg/kg and dopamine 26 mcg/kg. The patient occasionally responds to verbal commands, opens his eyes, grips Nurse P’s hands, and responds to pain in the upper extremities (his lower extremities are still under the effects of the spinal anesthesia).
Cardiac monitoring shows that the patient is still having sinus tachycardia. At this point, the coronary care unit resident and an intern approach Nurse P and inform him that they believe that the present treatment of the patient is cruel. Upon locating old medical records, they learned that the patient had been designated “do not resuscitate” (DNR) on his last admission, and the patient is supposed to have a living will, although it has still not yet been located. They order Nurse P to slowly turn off the intravenous (IV) drip of dopamine and dobutamine.
Nurse P is faced with an ethical dilemma. The treatment modalities in Mr. S’s treatment plan were basic: IV therapy, medication, and oxygen support. Some people might say the hospital team missed its chance when it failed to act decisively when it might have omitted the resuscitation of this patient. The IV, medication, and oxygen support may have been seen as obligatory for the patient and as supportive care. Two reasons for this position might be offered. First, it might be argued that aggressive resuscitation is extraordinary, whereas an IV drip is ordinary.
Another question might be whether the patient saw the IV as serving a purpose any more than the CPR served. Second, the difference between the CPR omission and stopping the IV drip is that one is an omission and the other would be a withdrawal. This raises the question of whether there is a difference between the two. Maintaining such a distinction might incline caregivers to be reluctant to start treatments such as an IV drip. Defenders of the view that there is no legitimate moral 1|Page • Continuing Education Online Learn. Click. Done.
Nationally Accredited CME / CEU / CE • • difference, believe that it is better to start a treatment when there is doubt about the correctness of the course and then withdraw if the time comes when it is clear that the patient would not have wanted the treatment to continue. Here, however, Nurse P is being told by a resident and intern to turn off the IV drip on the basis of an unconfirmed belief that the patient has a living will and the fact that he reportedly had been designated for nonresuscitation on his last hospital admission.
Nurse P must face the question of whether that is sufficient reason to stop the treatment even with the apparent approval of Mr. S’s relative. It is likely that the next of kin’s judgment would be sufficient in the case where the patient’s wishes cannot be determined, but that does not seem to lead to a clear answer here. First, we are not sure if the relative is Mr. S’s next of kin.
Moreover, even if it is, it seems possible that Mr. S has expressed his own wishes, and those wishes would surely take precedence. While the assumption is that he has a living will, no one seems to know exactly what it says. Some living wills are written for the purpose of insisting that treatment continue. The other possibility is that the living will could have been changed or voided by the patient between hospitalizations. Therefore, any action based on assumptions is taking considerable liberty. Also, any previous DNR order during another hospitalization would not be in effect for the present hospitalization.
Again, there is the danger of paternal decision making by physicians and others for the patient . More prudent action here must be considered in the light of the PSDA. Because a living will is thought to exist and a relative was found, no withdrawal in the treatment of Mr. S should occur.
The following would be a reasonable and prudent decision making process on behalf of the patient, Mr. S:
- The living will document should be obtained (there should have been a copy from the last hospitalization, or perhaps in the possession of other family members or with the primary care physician’s office)
- Relatives should be notified, and those, by law and policy of the hospital, could consent for continuation or removal of treatment modalities in the absence of an advance directive
- Consideration of the patient’s wishes and witnessed comments and conversations in the past regarding healthcare decisions to be made for him under specific circumstances should be ascertained, in the absence of an advance directive.