Responding to Moral Distress and Ethical Concerns at the Intersection of Medical Illness and Unmet Mental Health Needs

 

Donna D. McKlindon, Pamela Nathanson, and Chris Feudtner, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 222-7.

 

Some of the most difficult clinical ethics consultations involve patients who have both medical and mental health needs, as these cases can result in considerable moral distress on the part of the bedside staff. In this article we examine the issues that such consults raise through the illustrative example of a particular case: several years ago our ethics consultation service received a request from a critical care attending physician who was considering a rarely performed psychosurgical intervention to address intractable and life-threatening agitation and aggression in an adolescent patient for whom standard treatments had proven unsuccessful. We consider strategies that may be useful in addressing not only the ethical dilemmas or the clinical problems, but also the emotional, social, and moral distress that arise in delivering care in such complex cases, in which standard routine practices of care have been exhausted. In addition, we explore the processes that led to this situation and suggest ways to promote early recognition and intervention for similar cases in the future.

 

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