Ethical Issue Essay

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Debate on the role of hospice in promoting the peaceful death of patients continues to take charge of the different media platforms and hospitals. Questions on whether it is ethical for healthcare practitioners to help patients end their misery especially those suffering from long-term illness known not to have a cure have continued emerging. One evening as we watched television with my peers, we got engaged in a conversation in which this aspect of medical ethics took center stage. One of those involved asserted that it is ethical for the practitioners to help suffering patients end their lives to reduce their agony. The others focused on the moral attribute of this with the view that it would be unethical to help one end their life. These two present the available alternatives on this issue. The argument also brought into question the basis on which healthcare practitioners may make decisions in this regard. Elements of compassion, respect for life, integrity and effective communication come to play. In this resource, these elements of ethics in handling the end of life support for patients is examined in detail with both sides evaluated based on these.

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In a study conducted by Sara, (2010), hospice and palliative care fall under a similar bracket with each aiming and providing comfort to patients and helping them obtain a comfortable and dignified end of their lives. The author further affirms that taking care in identifying those that qualify for the program is essential in making better decisions in handling end of life requests from patients. In addition to the above, Rome et al. (2011), add that the main role of providing palliative care is to put patients to relief from the suffering they and their families face based on a condition assessed comprehensively, and with the physical, spiritual and psychosocial symptoms treated. The steps involved in providing palliative care as revealed by this study present wasted efforts with surety that the patient will eventually succumb to the condition. In normal circumstances, as the patient moves towards death, aggressive palliation may prove a necessity. These call for intensifying of comfort measures with the family showing ultimate support to the patient. The palliative care also follows on after bereavement to provide support to the family through the process. As providers of comfort with the responsibility of ensuring the patient obtain a comfortable and dignified death, ending the patient’s life earlier would save them the degeneration that may make them lose the meaning of their lives besides causing them further psychological trauma.

As also affirmed by Sara, knowing the wishes of the patient at this point of care are essential. Knowing these wishes is essential considering the practitioners provide care based on these wishes and are able to educate the patients appropriately about their conditions. Providing this care with compassion, integrity, and communication that maintains respect for the patient in spite of their condition is paramount. It also shows respect for the patients. If these are ethical, then also respecting the wishes of the patients to end their lives also would fall under respect for the patient’s wishes and rights to decisions. The advantage of this approach is that it enables the patient to die while still in a better state to control their lives rather than abruptly succumbing to the sickness that robs them of their personal integrity. Recently, legislation in some parts of the world has been developed to allow practitioners to provide support to patients’ end their lives as an ethical attribute. 

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On the converse side of this, Math and Chaturvedi, (2012) provide a discussion on the right to life and right to death of patients which has provided support to those opposing the implementation of legislation supporting the role of practitioners in helping patients end their lives. The author in this regard provides a discussion looking at the passive approach to supporting the act to the active measures that involve the use of an element such as a drug that will induce death. The argument is that everybody has a right to life and hence the disagreement with giving healthcare professionals support in helping a patient ends their life. Many of those opposing this suggestion have likened it to suicide and murder. In an article published under Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the details of the legislation are discussed (Belculfine, 2014). The legislation allows those adults intending to end their lives to obtain something from their doctors that may hasten the process and make it easiest in a manner that maintains respect for life and integrity. Questions such as the control attribute of death allowing patients to die in the comfort of their homes in the presence of their families rather than on tubes in hospitals were raised presenting genuine concerns considering only terminally ill patients would obtain this treatment. It allows the patient to feel treated with compassion for their rights as humans not violated besides being given an opportunity to decide based on information communicated effectively.

Based on the above review, it is evident as an ethical healthcare practitioner, ensuring compassion, respect to life, integrity and effective communication to patients with an aim of helping them understand their condition is essential. Compassion is essential in helping the patients understand their situation also supporting them effectively to make their end of life comfortable and easy. Respect to life also looks at diverse ways including the need to end suffering for a patient whose condition may not change. An example of this is that of a patient suffering from say a 98% degree of burns or one at the terminal stage of cancer. Helping these patients end their lives is respect to life considering it enables them to end their suffering. Integrity in this regard looks at the reaction and keeping in mind the ethical aspect of one’s practice. Being true to the patients and providing them with the necessary information for their decisions is part of being ethical. This helps them make an informed decision. Keeping the information on the condition and its extent from patients is contrary to integrity demands. Lastly, effectively communicating with the patients their condition also adding the possibility of them improving or the difficulties involved is paramount in helping them decide. If all these have been met and the patients decide on aided death, then in my view would be humanly kind for the healthcare practitioner to support them. As discussed by Sara above, providing patients with a dignified and comfortable is also part of hospice care. Therefore, helping patients seeking to end their lives instead of bearing the burden of a terminal disease also affirmed by practitioners is in line with serving healthcare roles ethically with compassion, respect to life, integrity and effective communication. 

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  1. Belculfine, L. (2014). Death with Dignity Legislation Sparks Support, Opposition in Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Viewed from https://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2014/11/18/Two-state-bills-would-allow-terminally-ill-patients-in-Pennsylvania-to-end-their-own-lives/stories/201411100009
  2. Math, S. B., and Chaturvedi, S. K. (2012). Euthanasia: Right to Life vs Right to Die. Indian Journal of Medical Research, Volume 136(6), 899-902.
  3. Rome, B. R., Luminais, H. H., Bourgeois, D. A. and Blais, M. C. (2011). The Role of Palliative Care at the End of Life. The Ochsner Journal, Volume 11(4), 348-352.
  4. Sara, Y. (2010). Your Role in Palliative and Hospice Care. Nursing Made Incredibly Easy, Volume 8(6), p.56.
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