Exploring what is reasonable: uncovering moral reasoning of vascular surgeons in daily practice

BMC Medical Ethics 24 (1):1-10 (2023)
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Abstract

BackgroundVascular surgery offers a range of treatments to relieve pain and ulcerations, and to prevent sudden death by rupture of blood vessels. The surgical procedures involve risk of injury and harm, which increases with age and frailty leading to complex decision-making processes that raise ethical questions. However, how vascular surgeons negotiate these questions is scarcely studied. The aim was therefore to explore vascular surgeons’ moral reasoning of what ought to be done for the patient.MethodsQualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 19 vascular surgeons working at three Swedish university hospitals. Data were analysed according to systematic text condensation.ResultsThe surgeons’ moral reasoning about what ought to be done comprised a quest to relieve suffering and avoid harm by exploring what is reasonable to do for the patient. Exploring reasonableness included to shift one´s perspective from the vessels to the whole person, to balance patient’s conflicting needs and to place responsibility for right decision on one´s shoulders. The shift from blood vessels to the whole person implied gaining holistic knowledge in pondering of what is best, struggling with one´s authority for surgery through dialogue, and building relationship for mutual security. To balance patient’s conflicting needs implied weighing the patient’s independence and a sense of being whole against ease of suffering, respecting the patient’s will against protecting life and well-being, and weighing longer life against protecting the present well-being. Finally, to place responsibility on one´s shoulders was conveyed as an urge to remind oneself of the risk of complications, withholding one’s power of proficiency, and managing time during the illness course.ConclusionsThis study contributes to uncovering how moral reasoning is embodied in the vascular surgeons’ everyday clinical discourse as a tangible part of their patient care. The results underpin the significance of moral considerations in the assemblage of medical knowledge and technical skills to further understand vascular surgeons’ clinical practice. The clinical application of these results is the need of forums with sufficient possibilities for articulating these important moral considerations in everyday care.

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