Caregivers and Family Members’ Vulnerability in End-of-Life Decision-Making: An Assessment of How Vulnerability Shapes Clinical Choices and the Contribution of Clinical Ethics Consultation

Philosophies 9 (1):14 (2024)
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Patient-and-family-centered care (PFCC) is critical in end-of-life (EOL) settings. PFCC serves to develop and implement patient care plans within the context of unique family situations. Key components of PFCC include collaboration and communication among patients, family members and healthcare professionals (HCP). Ethical challenges arise when the burdens (e.g., economic, psychosocial, physical) of family members and significant others do not align with patients’ wishes. This study aims to describe the concept of vulnerability and the ethical challenges faced by HCPs in these circumstances. Further, it assesses the contribution of clinical ethics consultation (CEC) in assisting HCPs to face these difficult ethical conundrums. Two clinical cases are analyzed using the Circle Method of CEC. The first regards the difficulty faced by the doctor in justifying treatments previously agreed upon between the patient and his/her friends. The second regards the patient’s concern about being a burden on their family. Family burdens in EOL settings challenge PFCC in that patient autonomy may be disregarded. This compromises shared decision-making between the patient, family and HCPs as a core component of PFCC. In their ability to promote a collaborative approach, CECs may assist in the successful implementation of PFCC.



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