Supporting ethical end-of-life care during pandemic: Palliative care team perspectives

Nursing Ethics 30 (4):570-584 (2023)
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Abstract

Background Italy was the first European country to be involved with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many healthcare professionals were deployed and suddenly faced end-of-life care management and its challenges. Aims To understand the experiences of palliative care professionals deployed in supporting emergency and critical care staff during the COVID-19 first and second pandemic waves. Research design A qualitative descriptive design was adopted, and in-depth interviews were used to investigate and analyse participants’ perceptions and points of view. Participants and research context Twenty-four healthcare professionals (physicians, nurses, psychologists, physiotherapists, and spiritual support) from the most affected areas of Italy were recruited via the Italian society of palliative care and researchers’ network. Ethical considerations The University Institutional Board granted ethical approval. Participants gave written informed consent and agreed to be video-recorded. Findings The overarching theme highlighted participants’ experience supporting health professionals to negotiate ethical complexity in end-of-life care. Crucial topics that emerged within themes were: training emergency department professionals on ethical dimensions of palliative and end-of-life care, preserving dying patients’ dignity and developing ethical competence in managing end-of-life care. Conclusions Our study showed palliative care teams’ challenges in supporting health professionals’ ethical awareness in emergencies. However, while they highlighted their concerns in dealing with the emergency staff’s lack of ethical perspectives, they also reported the positive impact of an ethically-informed palliative care approach. Lastly, this study illuminates how palliative care professionals’ clinical and ethical competence might have assisted a cultural change in caring for dying patients during COVID-19 and future emergencies.

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