Amid the ongoing ethical and societal debate, there has been a growing global movement toward the legalization of medical assistance in dying (MAID). In patients with terminal cancer and comorbid depression, the contributing role of depression in the decision-making processs to pursue MAID can be challenging to determine.
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Background: Involving adults lacking capacity (ALC) in research on end of life care (EoLC) or serious illness is important, but often omitted. We aimed to develop evidence-based guidance on how best to include individuals with impaired capacity nearing the end of life in research, by identifying the challenges and solutions for processes of consent across the capacity spectrum.
Methods: Methods Of Researching End of Life Care_Capacity (MORECare_C) furthers the MORECare statement on research evaluating EoLC. We used simultaneous methods of systematic review and transparent expert consultation (TEC). The systematic review involved four electronic databases searches. The eligibility criteria identified studies involving adults with serious illness and impaired capacity, and methods for recruitment in research, implementing the research methods, and exploring public attitudes. The TEC involved stakeholder consultation to discuss and generate recommendations, and a Delphi survey and an expert ‘think-tank’ to explore consensus. We narratively synthesised the literature mapping processes of consent with recruitment outcomes, solutions, and challenges. We explored recommendation consensus using descriptive statistics. Synthesis of all the findings informed the guidance statement.
Results: Of the 5539 articles identified, 91 met eligibility. The studies encompassed people with dementia (27%) and in palliative care (18%). Seventy-five percent used observational designs. Studies on research methods (37 studies) focused on processes of proxy decision-making, advance consent, and deferred consent. Studies implementing research methods (30 studies) demonstrated the role of family members as both proxy decision-makers and supporting decision-making for the person with impaired capacity. The TEC involved 43 participants who generated 29 recommendations, with consensus that indicated. Key areas were the timeliness of the consent process and maximising an individual’s decisional capacity. The think-tank (n = 19) refined equivocal recommendations including supporting proxy decision-makers, training practitioners, and incorporating legislative frameworks.
Conclusions: The MORECare_C statement details 20 solutions to recruit ALC nearing the EoL in research. The statement provides much needed guidance to enrol individuals with serious illness in research. Key is involving family members early and designing study procedures to accommodate variable and changeable levels of capacity. The statement demonstrates the ethical imperative and processes of recruiting adults across the capacity spectrum in varying populations and settings.
OBJECTIVE: In Belgium, people with an incurable psychiatric disorder can file a request for euthanasia claiming unbearable psychic suffering. For the request to be accepted, it has to meet stringent legal criteria. One of the requirements is that the patient possesses decision-making capacity. The patient's decision-making capacity is assessed by physicians.The objective of our study is to provide insight in the assessment of decision-making capacity in the context of euthanasia for patients with psychic suffering caused by a psychiatric disorder.
METHOD: Twenty-two semistructured interviews with psychiatrists and neurologists were analysed with NVivo, a qualitative analysis software to code and organise transcribed data.
RESULTS: Different views and approaches regarding decision-making capacity in the context of euthanasia emerged from the data. Most of the physicians have some knowledge of the cognitive ability approach on decision-making capacity. According to this approach, four abilities constitute decision-making capacity: communication, understanding, appreciation and reasoning. We observed differences in the way these abilities are valued in relation to competence. Some physicians take additional elements into consideration when assessing decision-making capacity. Physicians acquired their knowledge on the subject in many different ways. Most of the physicians reported that decision-making capacity was not part of their training.
CONCLUSION: We conclude that physicians assess decision-making capacity in different ways and that personal values and beliefs influence their approach. As such, a common approach in assessing the decision-making capacity of a patient among the interviewed physicians is lacking. Less arbitrariness could be obtained by consistently implementing the cognitive ability approach.
Medical practitioners are confronted daily with decisions about patients' capacity to consent to interventions. To address some of the pertinent issues with these assessments, the end-of-life decision-making capacity of a 72-year-old female with treatment-resistant schizophrenia and terminal cancer is discussed, as are the role of the treating clinician and the importance of health-related values. There is a recommendation that the focus of these assessments can rather be on practical outcomes, especially when capacity issues arise. This implies that the decision-making capacity of the patient is only practically important when the treatment team is willing to proceed against the patient's wishes. This shifts the focus from a potentially difficult assessment to the simpler question of whether the patient's capacity will change the treatment approach. Clinicians should attend to any possible underlying issues, instead of focusing strictly on capacity. Compared to the general populations people with serious mental illness (SMI) have higher rates of physical illness and die at a younger age, but they do not commonly access palliative care services. Conversations about end-of-life care can occur without fear that a person's psychiatric symptoms or related vulnerabilities will undermine the process. More research about palliative care and advance care planning for people with SMI is needed. This is even more urgent in light of the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and South African health services should consider recommendations that advanced care planning should be routinely implemented. These recommendations should not only focus on the general population and should include patients with SMI.
BACKGROUND: Facing the relentless worsening of their condition, ALS patients are required to make decisions on treatments and end-of-life care. A cognitive impairment showed to be a negative prognostic factor in ALS patients, perhaps affecting the ability to make informed decisions. Notwithstanding its crucial role, the capacity to consent to treatment (CCT) has never been evaluated in these patients.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the CCT in an ALS cohort in comparison to a control group, and to study the effects of demographic and clinical variables on this high-level cognitive function.
METHODS: 102 ALS patients and 106 healthy controls (HC) were enrolled. CCT was assessed using the MacArthur Competence Assessment Tool for Treatment (MAC-CAT-T) and the performance was classified into the three CCT outcomes (full credit, partial credit, no credit). Cognitive and psychological variables were assessed by MMSE, phonemic fluencies, Frontal System Behavioural Scale (FrSBe), and ALS Depression Inventory (ADI). Clinical and demographic variables were analyzed as possible predictors of the MAC-CAT-T outcomes. After a 1-year follow-up, CCT and neuropsychological assessments were repeated.
RESULTS: Most ALS patients (i.e., from 75 to 83% according to the different sub-items) retain full CCT. However, a subpopulation of the ALS patients showed a reduced CCT with respect to the HC. Age, education, phonemic fluency, and depression appeared related to the CCT outcomes. After 1 year, only the reasoning items worsened.
CONCLUSIONS: This is a preliminary report suggesting that the large majority of ALS patients can retain full ability to choose between treatment options. However, demographic and neuropsychological variables may affect CCT, pointing to the need for special attention to the consent disclosure in this disease.
Les soins palliatifs demandent de plus en plus de compétences médicales, soignantes, humaines et éthiques, afin d’asseoir leur légitimité dans des domaines de plus en plus pointus de la médecine – réanimation, néonatalogie, cancérologie, gériatrie – ainsi que dans la diversité des prises en charge, y compris au domicile ou en EPHAD.
Dans ce contexte de développement des formations et d’élargissement des champs de compétences de la pratique palliative, cette 5e édition du manuel offre :
-les indispensables connaissances thérapeutiques ;
-les outils, à destination des professionnels en vue d’acquérir une compétence clinique pour la rencontre et l’accompagnement humain, psychique et relationnelle de la personne malade ;
-une contextualisation de la pratique des soins palliatifs dans leur dimension sociale, sanitaire et politique ;
-des jalons pédagogiques pour le développement des soins palliatifs dans leur dimension pédagogique et de recherche.
BACKGROUND: Ideas of patient involvement are related to notions of self-determination and autonomy, which are not always in alignment with complex interactions and communication in clinical practice.
AIM: To illuminate and discuss patient involvement in routine clinical care situations in nursing practice from an ethical perspective.
METHOD: A case study based on an anthropological field study among patients with advanced cancer in Denmark.
ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS: Followed the principles of the Helsinki Declaration.
FINDINGS: Two cases illustrated situations where nurses refused patient involvement in their own case.
DISCUSSION: Focus on two ethical issues, namely 'including patients' experiences in palliative nursing care' and 'relational distribution of power and knowledge', inspired primarily by Hannah Arendt's concept of thoughtlessness and a Foucauldian perspective on the medical clinic and power. The article discusses how patients' palliative care needs and preferences, knowledge and statements become part of the less significant background of nursing practice, when nurses have a predefined agenda for acting with and involvement of patients. Both structurally conditioned 'thoughtlessness' of the nurses and distribution of power and knowledge between patients and nurses condition nurses to set the agenda and assess when and at what level it is relevant to take up patients' invitations to involve them in their own case.
CONCLUSION: The medical and institutional logic of the healthcare service sets the framework for the exchange between professional and patient, which has an embedded risk that 'thoughtlessness' appears among nurses. The consequences of neglecting the spontaneous nature of human action and refusing the invitations of the patients to be involved in their life situation call for ethical and practical reflection among nurses. The conditions for interaction with humans as unpredictable and variable challenge nurses' ways of being ethically attentive to ensure that patients receive good palliative care, despite the structurally conditioned logic of healthcare.
Patients with cancer face many difficult decisions and encounter many clinical situations that undermine decisional capacity. For this reason, assessing decision-making capacity should be thought of at every medical encounter. The culmination of variable disease trajectories, following patients to the end of life, use of high-risk treatments, and other weighty personal decisions require attention to patients' ability to engage in decisions. Oncologists develop meaningful relationships with their patients. This familiarity may lead to forgoing the process of diligently assessing a patient's cognitive ability and/or decisional capacity when important decisions need to be made. While the process may feel like it takes place spontaneously, many subtle and overt details are involved with the decisions around cancer care that require pointed questioning and probing. Thus, there are many ways to fall short in determining decisional capacity. Clinicians are inconsistent in their decisional capacity determinations and generally assume more decisional capacity than the patient has. Consult and referral services such as ethics and psychiatry can help with treatment decisions and with assessing underlying psychosocial and psychiatric conditions. Decisional capacity may fluctuate and requires a variable amount of decisional ability depending on the clinical situation; hence, it is time-specific and decision-specific. This review is intended to provide a summary of key components of decisional capacity while highlighting areas in need of clinical refinement.
Moral agency is a prerequisite for a full autonomous decision, meaning that the agents have the intrinsic capacity to understand their actions and to be accountable for the consequences of these actions. Palliative care patients have the moral right to build their capacity to decide, so that they are truly empowered to make choices. However, moral and spiritual distress are common at the end-of-life, which may rise if there is a threat to the individual’s integrity and disruption of one’s belief system, consequently leading to the deterioration of the patient’s moral agency. The aim of this paper is to determine if spirituality may be an important tool for the empowerment of palliative care patients and if moral agency can be enhanced by a diligent spiritual advocate. Spiritual awareness, self-knowledge, and specific training are key elements for he spiritual advocate to address patients’ spiritual needs and distress in a neutral and non-directive way, to promote autonomy, well-being, and quality of life. Thus, patients’ dignity and right for self-determination are respected, thereby supporting empowerment, reducing suffering, respecting patients’ individuality, and engaging moral agency. Palliative care patients should be able to fully exercise their autonomy. This strategy might be very appealing for adequate advance care planning, whatever the choices of the patient, as well as to prevent distress, hopelessness, and the lack of meaning that many terminal patients experience.
This case raises the difficult question of how to respond to patients who appear to lack decision-making capacity, yet retain limited communication that allows them to state a preference for life-sustaining treatment that conflicts with the choice of their surrogate. I argue that the patient’s preference should be honored, even though the patient lacks decision-making capacity, and the preference contradicts the wishes of the surrogate.
The minimally conscious state presents unique ethical, legal, and decision-making challenges because of the combination of diminished awareness, phenomenal experience, and diminished or absent communication. As medical expertise develops and technology advances, it is likely that more and more patients with disorders of consciousness will be recognized as being in the minimally conscious state, with minimal to no ability to participate in medical decision-making. Here we provide guidance useful for surrogates and medical professionals at any medical decision point, not merely for end-of-life decision-making. We first consider the legal landscape: precedent abounds regarding unconscious patients in coma or the vegetative state/Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome (VS/UWS), but there is little legal precedent involving patients in the minimally conscious state. Next we consider surrogates’ ethical authority to make medical decisions on behalf of patients with disorders of consciousness. In everyday medical decision-making, surrogates generally encounter few, if any, restrictions so long as they adhere to an idealized hierarchy of decision-making standards designed to honor patient autonomy as much as possible while ceding to the reality of what may or may not be known about a patient’s wishes. We conclude by proposing an ethically informed, practical guide for surrogate decision-making on behalf of patients in the minimally conscious state.
OBJECTIVES: There is increased global focus on advance care planning (ACP) with attention from policymakers, more education programmes, laws and public awareness campaigns.
METHODS: We provide a summary of the evidence about what ACP is, and how it should be conducted. We also address its barriers and facilitators and discuss current and future models of ACP, including a wider look at how to best integrate those who have diminished decisional capacity.
RESULTS: Different models are analysed, including new work in Wales (future care planning which includes best interest decision-making for those without decisional capacity), Asia and in people with dementia.
CONCLUSIONS: ACP practices are evolving. While ACP is a joint responsibility of patients, relatives and healthcare professionals, more clarity on how to apply best ACP practices to include people with diminished capacity will further improve patient-centred care.
BACKGROUND: Prior to national spread, the Department of Veterans Affairs implemented a pilot of the life-sustaining treatment decisions initiative (LSTDI) to promote proactive goals of care conversations (GoCC) with seriously ill patients, including policy and practice standards, an electronic documentation template and order set, and implementation support.
AIM: To describe a 2-year pilot of the LSTDI at 4 demonstration sites.
DESIGN: Prospective observational study.
SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: A total of 6664 patients who had at least one GoCC.
RESULTS: Descriptive statistics characterized patient demographics, goals of care, LST decisions, and risk of hospitalization or mortality among patients with at least one GoCC. Participants were on average 71.4 years old, 93.2% male, 87.1% white, and 64.7% urban; 27.3% died by the end of the pilot period. Fifteen percent lacked decision-making capacity (DMC). Nonmutually exclusive goals included to be cured (7.6%), to prolong life (34%), to improve/maintain quality of life (61.5%), to be comfortable (53%), to obtain support for family/caregiver (8.4%), to achieve life goals (2.1%), and other (10.5%). Many GoCCs resulted in a do not resuscitate (DNR) order (58.8%). Patients without DMC were more likely to have comfort-oriented goals (77.3% vs 48.8%) and a DNR (84% vs 52.6%). Chart abstraction supported content validity of GoCC documentation.
CONCLUSION: The pilot demonstrated that standardizing practices for eliciting and documenting GoCCs resulted in customized documentation of goals of care and LST decisions of a large number of seriously ill patients and established the feasibility of spreading standardized practices throughout a large integrated health care system.
CONTEXT: Few studies have examined how clinicians assess decision-making capacity for research in the last weeks of life.
OBJECTIVE: We examined the decision-making capacity for participation in a research study and its association with clinician impression and delirium among cancer patients with days to weeks of life expectancy.
METHODS: Patients admitted to our Palliative and Supportive Care Unit (PSCU) were approached for a prospective observational study. We assessed for their decision-making capacity based on clinical impression of physician and nurse, Memorial Delirium Assessment Scale (MDAS) and the MacArthur Competency Assessment Tool for Clinical Research (MacCAT-CR).
RESULTS: Among the 206 patients, 131 patients (64%) did not require MacCAT-CR assessment because they were overtly delirious or unresponsive; 37 (18%) patients were alert but did not complete the MacCAT-CR assessment for other reasons and 38 patients (18%) completed the MacCAT-CR assessment. Among these 38 patients, 5 (13%) were incapable and had normal albeit significantly higher MDAS scores compared to those who were capable (1.8 vs. 4.2, P=0.002). Compared against MacCAT-CR and MDAS, the overall agreement with capacity assessment with a clinician was 88% (95% CI 82-93%) for physicians and 90% (95% CI 82-94%) for nurses. The area-under the receiver-operating characteristics curve was 0.93 (95% CI 0.88-0.96) for physicians and 0.94 (95% CI 0.89-0.97) for nurses, suggesting high discrimination.
CONCLUSION: A majority of patients in the PSCU lacked decision-making capacity for participation in clinical research. Clinician impression had high accuracy. Few patients with normal MDAS were found to be incapable with MacCAT-CR assessment.
In the September issue of the American Journal of Bioethics, Kious and Battin present their arguments on why physician aid-in-dying (PAD) due to severe suffering should also be allowed in non-terminal psychiatric diseases. The authors argue that a crucial aspect of PAD is the assessment of the decision-making capacity. Furthermore, they elaborate on the incompatibility of current PAD regulations and compulsory treatment because of suicidality, emphasizing differences between European, Canadian, and US-American policies. They differentiate between possible pathways the discussion about laws and policies concerning medically assisted dying could lead to. Firstly, keep the status quo, requiring a terminal illness, without considering the suffering caused by mental illness. Secondly, a change toward a partial opening of PAD for people with mental illness if their decision-making capacity is intact. This approach would require a change in policies regarding assisted dying while at the same time changing the involuntary civil commitment practices. The third approach devises a metric to measure suffering. While allowing patients who reach the threshold of unbearable suffering to access PAD, people with lower scores of suffering would fall under the policies of involuntary civil commitment and treatment. This third approach poses difficult questions concerning the nature of an instrument to determine suffering, the definition of suffering and its thresholds, and about the authority of the gatekeeper determining whether a person qualifies for PAD.
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Surrogate health care decision making is often a challenge for everyone involved. In the case of incapacitated patients, family members, nurses, health care providers, and other members of the health care team often grapple with determining the most appropriate clinical course of action. For these difficult patient scenarios, the expertise of clinical ethics consultants is sought to assist with complex health care decision making. Clinical ethics consultation is designed to provide a more objective “outside” opinion and offer advice to the patient, family, and entire care team to support and guide decisions. Nurses are well positioned to initiate assistance from Clinical Ethics Consult Services in support of patient and family advocacy. This article presents a case analysis based on the Stakeholder, Facts, Norms, and Options Framework to analyze the best interest course of action for Mr K., a patient diagnosed with abdominal pain due to end-stage liver cirrhosis and who lacks decisional capacity in regard to his own treatment decision making. The case analysis highlights specific examples of how nurses can provide information, facilitate discussion, and otherwise support patients and families to achieve best interest outcomes.