Written institutional ethics policies on euthanasia: an empirical-based organizational-ethical framework

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 17 (2):215-228 (2014)
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Abstract

As euthanasia has become a widely debated issue in many Western countries, hospitals and nursing homes especially are increasingly being confronted with this ethically sensitive societal issue. The focus of this paper is how healthcare institutions can deal with euthanasia requests on an organizational level by means of a written institutional ethics policy. The general aim is to make a critical analysis whether these policies can be considered as organizational-ethical instruments that support healthcare institutions to take their institutional responsibility for dealing with euthanasia requests. By means of an interpretative analysis, we conducted a process of reinterpretation of results of former Belgian empirical studies on written institutional ethics policies on euthanasia in dialogue with the existing international literature. The study findings revealed that legal regulations, ethical and care-oriented aspects strongly affected the development, the content, and the impact of written institutional ethics policies on euthanasia. Hence, these three cornerstones—law, care and ethics—constituted the basis for the empirical-based organizational-ethical framework for written institutional ethics policies on euthanasia that is presented in this paper. However, having a euthanasia policy does not automatically lead to more legal transparency, or to a more professional and ethical care practice. The study findings suggest that the development and implementation of an ethics policy on euthanasia as an organizational-ethical instrument should be considered as a dynamic process. Administrators and ethics committees must take responsibility to actively create an ethical climate supporting care providers who have to deal with ethical dilemmas in their practice.

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