The Journal of Clinical Ethics, 28, number 4, Winter 2017


At the Bedside


New Ways to Cut through Ethical Gordian Knots

Edmund G. Howe, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 257-68.

Clinicians and ethicists routinely encounter complex ethical dilemmas that seem intractable, which have been described as ethical Gordian knots. How can they best assist patients and surrogate decision makers who are entangled in struggles around the capacity to make life-or-death treatment decisions? In this article I describe unconventional and unorthodox approaches to help slice through these dilemmas.

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Comparativism and the Grounds for Person-Centered Care and Shared Decision Making

Anders Herlitz, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 269-78.

This article provides a new argument and a new value-theoretical ground for person-centered care and shared decision making that ascribes to it the role of enabling rational choice in situations involving clinical choice. Rather than referring to good health outcomes and/or ethical grounds such as patient autonomy, it argues that a plausible justification and ground for person-centered care and shared decision making is preservation of rationality in the face of comparative non-determinacy in clinical settings. Often, no alternative treatment will be better than or equal to every other alternative. In the face of such comparative non-determinacy, Ruth Chang has argued that we can make rational decisions by invoking reasons that are created through acts of willing. This article transfers this view to clinical decision making and argues that shared decision making provides a solution to non-determinacy problems in clinical settings. This view of the role of shared decision making provides a new understanding of its nature, and it also allows us to better understand when caregivers should engage in shared decision making and when they should not.

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Incapacitated Surrogates: A New and Increasing Dilemma in Hospital Care

Karen L. Smith, Patrice Fedel, and Jay Heitman, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 279-84.

A power of attorney for healthcare (POAHC) form gives designated individuals legal status to make healthcare decisions when patients are unable to convey their decisions to medical staff. Completion of a POAHC form is crucial in the provision of comprehensive healthcare, since it helps to ensure that patients’ interests, values, and preferences are represented in decisions about their medical treatment. Because increasing numbers of people suffer from debilitating illness and cognitive deficits, healthcare systems may be called upon to navigate the complexities of patients’ care without clear directives from the patients themselves. Hence, the healthcare industry encourages all individuals to complete a POAHC form to ensure that persons who have the patients’ trust are able to act as their surrogate decision makers. However, sometimes POAHC agents, even when they are patients’ trusted agents, lack the capacity to make fully informed decisions that are in the patients’ best interests. We describe designated surrogate decision makers who have impaired or diminished judgment capacity as incapacitated surrogates. Decision making that is obviously flawed or questionable is a significant impediment to providing timely and appropriate care to patients. Moreover, failure to redress these issues in a timely and efficient manner can result in significant costs to an institution and a diminished quality of patient care. The authors offer a legal, ethical, and interdisciplinary framework to help navigate cases of incapacitated surrogates.

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Measuring Instrument for Ethical Sensitivity in the Therapeutic Sciences

Alida Naudé and Juan Bornman, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 290-302.

There are currently no instruments available to measure ethical sensitivity in the therapeutic sciences. This study therefore aimed to develop and implement a measure of ethical sensitivity that would be applicable to four therapeutic professions, namely audiology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and speech-language pathology. The study followed a two-phase, sequential exploratory mixed-methods design. Phase One, the qualitative development phase, employed six stages and focused on developing an instrument based on a systematic review: an analysis of professional ethical codes, focus group discussions, in-depth interviews, a review of public complaints websites, and an expert panel review. The development phase culminated in the Measuring Instrument for Ethical Sensitivity in the Therapeutic Sciences (MIEST), a pen-and-paper measure for studying ethical sensitivity in the therapeutic sciences.

         Phase Two, the quantitative stage, focused on implementing the MIEST in two different stages. A total of 100 participants completed the instrument. MIEST scores were found to be comparable for all four professions, which confirmed the multidisciplinary usability of the instrument. Participants tended to base decisions on the ethical principle of beneficence. The MIEST is effective to assess and describe the ethical sensitivity of professionals in the four specified therapeutic sciences. The constructed vignettes also make the MIEST appropriate for use in problem-based learning programs.

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Make It Plain: Strengthening the Ethical Foundation of First-Person Authorization for Organ Donation

James L. Benedict, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 303-7.

One response to the chronic shortage of organs for transplant in the United States has been the passage of laws establishing first-person authorization for donation of organs, providing legal grounds for the retrieval of organs and tissues from registered donors, even over the objections of their next of kin. The ethical justification for first-person authorization is that it is a matter of respecting the donor’s wishes. The objection of some next of kin may be that the donor would not have wished for his or her loved ones to have their preferences overridden, had they considered that possibility. This article examines the basis of the conflict and suggests a remedy grounded in the provision of donor-intent options that have the ability to clarify the donor’s wishes.

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Cases from the Cleveland Clinic


Incarcerated Patients and Equitability: The Ethical Obligation to Treat Them Differently

Lisa Fuller and Margot M. Eves, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 308-13.

Prisoners are legally categorized as a vulnerable group for the purposes of medical research, but their vulnerability is not limited to the research context. Prisoner-patients may experience lower standards of care, fewer options for treatment, violations of privacy, and the use of inappropriate surrogates as a result of their status. This case study highlights some of the ways in which a prisoner-patient’s vulnerable status impacted the care he received. The article argues the following: (1) Prisoner-patients are entitled to the same quality of care as all other patients, and healthcare providers should be vigilant to ensure that the stigma of incarceration does not influence care decisions. (2) Options for treatment should reflect what is most medically appropriate in the hospital or other healthcare setting, even when not all treatments would be available in the correctional setting. (3) The presence of guards at the bedside requires that additional measures be taken to protect the privacy and confidentiality of prisoner-patients. (4) When end-of-life decisions must be made for an incapacitated patient, prison physicians are not well placed to act as surrogate decision makers, which heightens the obligations of the healthcare professionals in the hospital to ensure an ethically supportable process and outcome. Therefore, healthcare professionals should provide extra protection for those prisoner-patients who do not have decision-making capacity, by utilizing a robust process for decision making such as those used for incapacitated patients without surrogates, rather than relying solely on prison physicians as surrogates.

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Clinical Ethics Consultation


Ongoing Evaluation of Clinical Ethics Consultations as a Form of Continuous  Quality Improvement

Rebecca L. Volpe, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 314-7.

Ongoing evaluation of a clinical ethics consultation service (ECS) allows for continuous quality improvement, a process-based, data-driven approach for improving the quality of a service. Evaluations by stakeholders involved in a consultation can provide real-time feedback about what is working well and what might need to be improved. Although numerous authors have previously presented data from research studies on the effectiveness of clinical ethics consultation, few ECSs routinely send evaluations as an ongoing component of their everyday clinical activities. The primary purpose of this article is to equip and encourage others to engage in ongoing evaluation of their own ECS. Toward that end, the following resources are shared: (1) the survey tool used to gather the evaluation data, (2) the procedure used to elicit and collate responses, and (3) how the resulting data are used to support continuous quality improvement and justify the continued financial support of the ECS to hospital administration.

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Moral Distress, Ethical Environment, and the Embedded Ethicist

Donna Messutta, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 318-24.

Interest in understanding the experience of moral distress has steadily gained traction in the 30 years since Jameton first described the phenomenon. This curiosity should be of no surprise, since we now have data documenting the incidence across most caregiver roles and healthcare settings, both in the United States and internationally. The data have also amplified healthcare providers’ voices who report that the quality of the ethical environment is pivotal to preventing and containing the adverse effects caused by moral distress. Healthcare providers are asking for a moral space where ethics occurs at the bedside, in real time, applied to real cases. They are asking for ethics expertise to be available as part of the care team during their daily work, when treatment goals must be determined and decisions must be made. They are asking for an embedded ethicist who can help cultivate an ethical environment where formal ethics policy is properly applied to practice. This discussion advocates for an embedded ethics resource model that responds to contemporaneous ethics needs as a strategy to mitigate the effects of moral distress.

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Medical Education


The Rise of Hospitalists: An Opportunity for Clinical Ethics

Matthew W. McCarthy, Diego Real de Asua, and Joseph J. Fins, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 325-32.

Translating ethical theories into clinical practice presents a perennial challenge to educators. While many suggestions have been put forth to bridge the theory-practice gap, none have sufficiently remedied the problem. We believe the ascendance of hospital medicine, as a dominant new force in medical education and patient care, presents a unique opportunity that could redefine the way clinical ethics is taught. The field of hospital medicine in the United States is comprised of more than 50,000 hospitalists—specialists in inpatient medicine—representing the fastest growing subspecialty in the history of medicine, and its members have emerged as a dominant new force around which medical education and patient care pivot. This evolution in medical education presents a unique opportunity for the clinical ethics community. Through their proximity to patients and trainees, hospitalists have the potential to teach medical ethics in real time on the wards, but most hospitalists have not received formal training in clinical ethics. We believe it is time to strengthen the ties between hospital medicine and medical ethics, and in this article we outline how clinical ethicists might collaborate with hospitalists to identify routine issues that do not rise to the level of an “ethics consult,” but nonetheless require an intellectual grounding in normative reasoning. We use a clinical vignette to explore how this approach might enhance and broaden the scope of medical education that occurs in the inpatient setting: A patient with an intra-abdominal abscess is admitted to the academic hospitalist teaching service for drainage of the fluid, hemodynamic support, and antimicrobial therapy. During the initial encounter with the hospitalist and his team of medical students and residents, the patient reports night sweats and asks if this symptom could be due to the abscess. How should the hospitalist approach this question?

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Introduction to the Current Issue


New Ways to Cut through Ethical Gordian Knots

Edmund G. Howe

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