“Buying-In” and “Cashing-Out”: Patients’ Experience and the Refusal of Life-Prolonging Treatment

 

Nathan Scheiner and Joan Liaschenko, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 29, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 15-9.

 

      Surgical “buy-in” is an “informal contract between surgeon and patient in which the patient not only consents to the operative procedure but commits to the post-operative surgical care anticipated by the surgeon.” Surgeons routinely assume that patients wish to undergo treatment for operative complications so that the overall treatment course is “successful,” as in the treatment of a post-operative infection. This article examines occasions when patients buy-in to a treatment course that carries risk of complication, yet refuse treatment when complications arise. We coin this counter-phenomenon “cashing-out.” Cashing-out may elicit negative feelings among careproviders. We question why patients or families may wish to cash-out. One reason may be the changing epistemological position of patients as they experience a complication. The shift from the hypothetical discussion of complications during the initial informed-consent process to the experience of having a complication represents new knowledge. Patients and families may use this knowledge as the basis to revoke consent for some or all of the remaining treatment course. This article seeks to understand cashing-out in terms of the patients’ experiences. We hope to prompt recognition of this phenomenon across medical contexts and to provide impetus for further work to understand why patients may wish to cash-out.

 

 

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