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.
This paper argues that healthcare aims at the good of health, that this pursuit of the good necessitates conscience, and that conscience is required in every practical judgement, including clinical judgment. Conscientious objection in healthcare is usually restricted to a handful of controversial ends (e.g. abortion, euthanasia, contraception), yet the necessity of conscience in all clinical judgements implies the possibility of conscientious objection to means. The distinction between conscientious objection to means and ends is explored and its implications considered. Based on this, it is suggested that conscientious objection, whether to means or ends, occurs when a proposed course of action comes into irreconcilable conflict with the moral principle 'do no harm'. It is, therefore, concluded that conscientious objection in healthcare can be conceived as a requirement of the moral imperative to do no harm, the right to refuse to harm in regard to health.
Health care professionals’ (HCPs) experiences during early pediatric end-of-life care were explored using a theory-building case study approach. Multiple data collection methods including observation, electronic medical record review, and semi-structured interviews were collected with 15 interdisciplinary HCPs across four cases. Within- and across-case analyses resulted in an emerging theory. HCPs’ initial awareness of a child’s impending death is fluid, ongoing, and informed through both relational and internal dimensions. Initial cognitive awareness is followed by a deeper focus on the child through time-oriented attention to the past, present, and future. HCPs engage in a “delicate dance of figuring out” key issues. Awareness was exemplified through four themes: professional responsibility, staying connected, grounded uncertainty, and holding in. The emerging theoretical model provides a framework for HCPs to assess their ongoing awareness, identify personal assumptions, and inform gaps in understanding when facilitating early end-of-life care discussions with families.
CONTEXT: Assessing consciousness and pain during continuous sedation until death (CSD) by behavior-based observational scales alone has recently been put into question. Instead, the use of monitoring technology has been suggested to make more objective and reliable assessments. Insights into which factors influence attitudes towards using these monitoring devices in a context of CSD is a first step in formulating recommendations to inform future practice.
OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to find out what influences professional caregivers' and family members' attitudes regarding the use of monitors during CSD.
METHODS: We conducted semi-structured face-to-face interviews with 20 professional caregivers and 15 family members, who cared for a patient or had a family member respectively who took part in a study using monitoring devices. Recruitment took place in an academic hospital, a loco-regional hospital and 2 nursing homes, all located in Belgium. Two researchers independently analysed the data, using grounded theory to inductively develop a model that represents the emerging attitude towards use of monitors during CSD.
RESULTS: Our model shows that the emerging attitudes towards using monitors during CSD is determined by view on CSD, desire for peace of mind, emotional valence attached to using monitors and the realization that the sole use of behavior-based observational measures could be unreliable in a CSD context. We identified several facilitators and barriers to inform future implementation strategies.
CONCLUSION: Most participants had no objections and all participants found the use of monitoring devices during CSD feasible and acceptable. We identified a number of facilitators and barriers and suggested that being aware that care can be improved, good communication, shared decision making and continuing professional education can overcome the identified barriers. We suggest future research would focus on developing implementation strategies and guidelines for introducing objective monitoring devices in diverse palliative care settings.
In a recent paper, Charles Foster argued that the epistemic uncertainties surrounding prolonged disorders of consciousness (PDOC) make it impossible to prove that the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment can be in a patient's best interests and, therefore, the presumption in favour of the maintenance of life cannot be rebutted. In the present response, I argue that, from a legal perspective, Foster has reached the wrong conclusion because he is asking the wrong question. According to the reasoning in two leading cases-Bland and James-the principle of respect for autonomy creates a persuasive presumption against treatment without consent. Therefore, it is the continuation of treatment that requires justification, rather than its withdrawal. This presumption also works as the tiebreaker determining that treatment should stop if there is no persuasive evidence that its continuation is in the best interests of the patient. The presumption in favour of the maintenance of life, on the other hand, should be understood as an evidential presumption on a factual issue that is assumed to be true if unchallenged. However, the uncertainties regarding PDOC actually give reasons for displacing this evidential presumption. Consequently, decision-makers will have to weigh up the pros and cons of treatment having the presumption against treatment without consent as the tiebreaker if the evidence is inconclusive. In conclusion, when the right question is asked, Foster's argument can be turned on its head and uncertainties surrounding PDOC weigh in to justify the interruption of treatment in the absence of compelling contrary evidence.
Evaluating a patient with brain injury (traumatic or not traumatic) is challenging. Potential outcomes are often unclear as the manifestations of brain injuries evolve over time and can result in dynamic changes in conciousness. This can create confusion for prognostication and clinnical decision making. Appropriate classification of disorders of conciousness (DOC) involves a careful assessment of neurological function at the bedside and an understanding of the expected time frame during which neurological function can evolve. Although neurological assessment and diagnosis is the role of a neurologist, it is important for palliative care clinicians to understand the diagnosis so they can appropriately educate and counsel families. This Fast Fact aims to help clinicians understand the terminology around DOC. Prognosis in DOC will be discussed in a future Fast Fact.
De plus en plus souvent, nous entendons parler d'euthanasie : que ce soit par les médias, par les politiques, par les services publics ou par diverses associations, la thématique est sur toutes les langues.
Cependant, force est de constater que le sujet est bien souvent abordé avec méconnaissance ou parti pris. Mon souhait est donc d'intervenir dans cet ouvrage pour décrire le plus fidèlement possible la très dure réalité qui entoure le processus d'euthanasie.
Non, la vie dans nos hôpitaux n'est pas - ou n'est plus - un long fleuve tranquille. Elle est en crue permanente, avec de nombreux débordements quotidiens. En tant que membre du personnel soignant, je constate combien il nous est difficile à nous, infirmiers, médecins, psychologues, assistants sociaux, de garder la tête hors de l'eau, lorsqu'il est question de ce qu'on appelle pompeusement "éthique".
Background: Awareness of disease status has been identified as a factor in the treatment decision-making process. Women with recurrent ovarian cancer are facing the challenge of making treatment decisions throughout the disease trajectory. It is not understood how women with ovarian cancer perceive their disease and subsequently make treatment decisions.
Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the lived experience of women with recurrent ovarian cancer, how they understood their disease and made their treatment decisions.
Methods: A qualitative design with a descriptive phenomenological method was used to conduct 2 in-depth interviews with 12 women (n = 24 interviews). Each interview was ~60 minutes and was digitally recorded and professionally transcribed. Data collection focused on patients' understanding of their disease and how patients participated in treatment decisions. A modified version of Colaizzi's method of phenomenological reduction guided data analysis.
Results: Three themes emerged to describe the phenomenon of being aware of disease status: (1) perceiving recurrent ovarian cancer as a chronic illness, (2) perceived inability to make treatment decisions, and (3) enduring emotional distress.
Conclusions and Implications: This study revealed how 12 women conceptualized recurrent ovarian cancer as a chronic disease and their perceived inability to make treatment decisions because of lack of information and professional qualifications, resulting in enduring emotional distress. Future research should replicate the study to confirm the persistence of the themes for racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse patient samples and to improve understanding of awareness of disease status and decision-making processes of patients.
BACKGROUND: The use of observational measures to assess palliative care patients' level of consciousness may improve patient care and comfort. However, there is limited knowledge regarding the validity and reliability of these measures in palliative care settings.
AIM: To identify and evaluate the psychometric performance of observational level of consciousness measures used in palliative care.
DESIGN: Systematic review; PROSPERO registration: CRD42017073080.
DATA SOURCES: We searched six databases until November 2018, using search terms combining subject headings and free-text terms. Psychometric performance for each identified tool was appraised independently by two reviewers following established criteria for developing and evaluating health outcome measures.
RESULTS: We found 35 different levels of consciousness tools used in 65 studies. Only seven studies reported information about psychometric performance of just eight tools. All other studies used either ad hoc measures for which no formal validation had been undertaken (n = 21) or established tools mainly developed and validated in non-palliative care settings (n = 37). The Consciousness Scale for Palliative Care and a modified version of the Richmond Agitation–Sedation Scale received the highest ratings in our appraisal, but, since psychometric evidence was limited, no tool could be assessed for all psychometric properties.
CONCLUSION: An increasing number of studies in palliative care are using observational measures of level of consciousness. However, only a few of these tools have been tested for their psychometric performance in that context. Future research in this area should validate and/or refine the existing measures, rather than developing new tools.
Cet article est le deuxième d'une série de deux qui se voit consacré au concept de présence chez les infirmières en soins palliatifs (SP), dans le cadre de la programmation de recherche SATIN II (SATisfaction, le sens au travail et le bien-être des INfirmières, Fillion et al. 2017). Le premier article visait à mieux comprendre l'expérience vécue de la présence selon le point de vue d'infirmières en SP. La présente étude qualitative a pour sa part comme objectif d'explorer les effets possibles d'une intervention de groupe basée sur le sens et la pleine conscience sur l'expérience de la présence des infirmières. Des entretiens semi-structurés ont été menés auprès de huit infirmières qui oeuvraient exclusivement dans un service de SP après leur participation à l'intervention de groupe. Nos analyses des récits des participantes nous ont permis de catégoriser en deux groupes les effets de l'intervention sur la présence des infirmières, soit les bienfaits de l'intervention : 1) être plus présente à soi ; 2) mieux faire face au stress du quotidien ; 3) revenir au "ici et maintenant" ; 4) accroître sa conscience de la présence et 5) donner sens au prendre soin. Nous avons également soulevé certains défis associés à l'intervention. En conclusion, notre recherche souligne la nécessité d'accompagner les soignants dans leur pratique de la présence et de la pleine conscience dans le cadre de leur travail.
Background: Requests for physician-assisted death (PAD) in patients with cognitive impairment are complex and require careful consideration. Of particular difficulty is determination of whether the request is voluntary and well considered.
Results: Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) are both legal in The Netherlands, Luxemburg, Colombia, and Canada. Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, while PAS is legal in Switzerland and Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and California (USA). Upon a PAD request, evaluation of the capacity to consent medical treatment is relevant for the decision-making process, while evaluation of testamentary capacity is appropriate before an advance euthanasia directive is written. Anosognosia assessment throughout the Alzheimer's disease continuum provides essential and relevant information regarding the voluntary and well-considered nature of the PAD request; meanwhile, early assessment of hypernosognosia or subjective cognitive decline assists in formulation of a clinical prognosis. Furthermore, the assessment of physical and psychological suffering should incorporate verbal and nonverbal cues as well as consideration of the psychosocial factors that might affect due care criteria.
Conclusion: The clinical approach to a PAD request should consider the legal framework and the decision-making capacity, assess memory deficit awareness and the perception of suffering, and evaluate mental competency when considered pertinent.
BACKGROUND: Emotional preparedness for death is a distinct but related concept to prognostic awareness (PA). Both allow patients to prepare psychologically and interpersonally for death but they have primarily been examined in cross-sectional studies.
OBJECTIVE: To (1) explore the courses of change in good emotional preparedness for death and accurate PA and (2) evaluate their associations with severe anxiety symptoms, severe depressive symptoms, and quality of life (QOL) in cancer patients' last year.
METHODS: For this prospective, longitudinal study, we consecutively recruited 277 terminally ill cancer patients. Aims 1 and 2 were examined by univariate and multivariate generalized estimating equation analyses, respectively.
RESULTS: The prevalence of good emotional preparedness for death was 54.43%–65.85% in the last year, with a significant decrease only 91–180 vs. 181–365 days before death (odds ratio [95% CI] = 0.67 [0.47, 0.97]). Good emotional preparedness for death was associated with a lower likelihood of severe anxiety symptoms (adjusted odds ratio [95% CI] = 0.47 [0.27, 0.79]) and severe depressive symptoms (0.61 [0.39, 0.95]), but not with quality of life (ß [95% CI] = 0.49 [-2.13, 3.11]). However, accurate PA improved substantially (55.12%–70.73%) as death approached and accurate PA was positively associated with severe depressive symptoms (2.63 [1.63, 4.25]).
CONCLUSIONS: Good emotional preparedness for death and accurate PA remained largely stable and improved substantially, respectively, in cancer patients' last year. Both measures were significantly associated with psychological distress. Healthcare professionals should not only cultivate accurate PA but also promote cancer patients' emotional preparedness for death, which may improve their psychological well-being.
Objective: In the emotionally intense field of healthcare, the ability to peacefully inhabit one's body, maintain good boundaries, and be fully present during care is essential. This study aimed to validate the recently developed Mindful Self-Care Scale (MSCS) among hospice and healthcare professionals and develop a brief version of the 33-item MSCS.
Method: A sample of hospice and healthcare professionals from all 50 states (n = 858) was used. A confirmatory factor analysis was run using a rigorous methodology for validation and item reduction to develop a brief version of the 33-item MSCS. The brief MSCS (B-MSCS) was developed by identifying items for exclusion through examination of conceptual overlap, descriptive statistics by detecting sources of improvement model fit using confirmatory factor analysis. Model modifications were done sequentially and with regard to theoretical considerations.ResultThe existing model, 33-item MSCS with six subscales, had good fit to the data with all indicators in acceptable ranges (chi-square/df = 3.08, df (480), p < 0.01, root mean square error of approximation = 0.059, comparative fit index = 0.915, Tucker and Lewis's index of fit = 0.907). Nine items were excluded on the basis of very low loadings and conceptual and empirical overlap with other items.
Significance of results: The final 24-item, B-MSCS model was consistent with the original conceptual model and had a closer fit to the data (chi-square/df = 1.85, df (215), p < 0.01, root mean square error of approximation = 0.041, comparative fit index = 0.961, Tucker and Lewis's index of fit = 0.955). In addition, the reliability, construct, and concurrent validity of the MSCS and B-MSCS were in the acceptable and good ranges, respectively. Mean and standard deviation of the MSCS and B-MSCS scores were similar; B-MSCS mean scores well approximated the MSCS scores. Informal mindful self-care, in the process of everyday life, was practiced more regularly and associated with increased wellness and reduced burnout risk than formal mind-body practices.
The convergence of medical treatment that can extend life with written medical orders that make it possible to refuse such treatment brings the differential dynamics of contemporary end-of-life decision making into sharp focus. Communication between families and clinicians can be confusing, uncertain, and pressured when death is imminent. These situations create distress that ultimately influences the end-of-life experience for people who are dying and those who care for them. This article presents the analysis of the decisional dynamics that emerge from the intersection of the patient-family-provider awareness that death is near with the presence or absence of documentation of expressed wishes for end-of-life care. A heuristic analysis was conducted with data from three studies about urgent decision making at the end of life. Original study data included 395 surveys, in-depth interviews with 91 prehospital (paramedics and emergency medical technicians), and content analysis of 100 Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment forms that led to the development of an overarching conceptual model of decision making. Four decisional contexts emerged from the intersection of awareness of dying and documentation of wishes: 1) Aware Documented, 2) Aware Undocumented, 3) Unaware Documented, and 4) Unaware Undocumented. This generalizable model, which is agnostic of setting, can help clinicians more astutely recognize the clinical situation when death is imminent, assess patients and caregivers, and intervene to help focus conversation and direct decision making. The model can also inform research, education, and care for people in some of the most vulnerable moments of life.
OBJECTIVE: This paper aims to explore the extent to which the "revivalist" discourse of a good death, which promotes an awareness of dying shapes the lived realities of palliative care patients and their families in Portugal.
METHOD: An ethnographic approach was developed. Participant observation was carried out in 2 palliative care units, and this was complemented by in-depth interviews. Ten terminally ill patients, 20 family members, and 20 palliative care professionals were interviewed.
RESULTS: The "revivalist" good death script might not be suitable for all dying people, as they might not want an open awareness of dying and, thereby, the acknowledgment of imminent potential death. This might be related to cultural factors and personal circumstances. The "social embeddedness narrative" offers an alternative to the "revivalist" good death script.
SIGNIFICANCE OF RESULTS: The "revivalist" discourse, which calls for an open awareness of dying, is not a cultural preference in a palliative care context in Portugal, as it is not in accord with its familial nature.
This case study illustrates the complex role that a physician's conscience can play in end-of-life care. We examine a case from Vermont in which a terminally ill patient requests aid-in-dying from her primary care physician under the state's "Patient Choice and Control at End of Life" Act (Act 39). The physician feels conflicted: she is opposed to prescribing death-hastening medication but does not want to abandon her patient. Much of the medical ethics literature on conscience focuses on whether health care professionals should be permitted to abstain from providing morally contested medical services. Our analysis highlights the interplay of conflicting values that inform the physician's engagement with aid-in-dying, demonstrating that the issue is often more nuanced than the question of whether or not a physician can (or should) opt out.
Death awareness leads to aversion from bodily processes such as breastfeeding and sex, especially among low body esteem individuals. Using a modality bias task, we examined whether primes of death reduced attention to bodily sensations. We subliminally primed 72 undergraduates with either the word death or failed and assessed their attention to tactile and visual stimuli as a function of their body esteem. Results indicated that death primes significantly reduced attention to tactile stimuli relative to visual stimuli in low body esteem individuals. Dissociation from the body, therefore, may be an unconscious terror management strategy utilized by people with low body esteem.
OBJECTIVES: In Canada, the rural elderly population is increasing in size, as is their need for palliative care services in these settings. This analysis aims to identify awareness-associated barriers to delivering rural palliative care services, along with suggestions for improving service delivery from the perspective of local health care providers.
METHODS: A total of 40 semi-structured interviews with various formal and informal health care providers were conducted in four rural and/or remote Canadian communities with limited palliative care resources. Interview data were thematically coded using Penchansky and Thomas' five dimensions of access (i.e. availability, (geographic) accessibility, accommodation, acceptability and affordability). Saurman's recently added sixth dimension of access - awareness - was also identified while coding and subsequently became the primary focus of this analysis.
RESULTS: Identified barriers to palliative care awareness and suggestions on how to enhance this awareness, and ultimately palliative care delivery, corresponded with three key themes arising from the data: limited palliative care knowledge/education, communication and coordination. Participants recognized the need for more palliative care education, open lines of communication and better coordination of palliative care initiatives and local resources in their communities.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that identifying the barriers to palliative care awareness in rural communities may be foundational to addressing barriers to the other five dimensions of access. A thorough understanding of these three areas of awareness knowledge, communication and coordination, as well as the connections between them, may help enhance how rural palliative care is delivered in the future.
BACKGROUND: Awareness and pain during palliative sedation is typically assessed by observational scales, but the use of such scales has been put into question.
CASE PRESENTATION: A woman in her mid-80s was admitted to a palliative care unit, presenting with chronic lymphatic leukemia, depression, and a cerebrovascular accident, with right-sided hemiplegia and aphasia. The patient was unable to eat and was suffering from nausea and vomiting. Before admission, the patient had expressed her desire to discontinue treatment on several occasions.
CASE MANAGEMENT: The decision was made to initiate palliative sedation. The patient consented to take part in a study to assess level of comfort and pain using two monitoring devices (NeuroSense monitor and Analgesia Nociception Index monitor).
CASE OUTCOME: The patient died 90 h after initiation of palliative sedation. Titration of the medication was challenging and sedation was not deep enough during the first 2 days. Thirteen assessments made with the Ramsay Sedation Scale showed that the patient was considered to be in a deep sleep, while in fact the NeuroSense monitor indicated otherwise.
CONCLUSION: This case demonstrates the feasibility and potential advantages of using monitoring devices to objectify assessments of pain and discomfort in palliatively sedated patients.