Ethics is about trying to figure out the right thing to do. Ethical behaviour is sometimes expressed as what we “should do” or what we “ought to do.” Sometimes, the right course of action is obvious. Other times, it can be hard to know what we should do.
What does an ethical issue look like within healthcare?
Ethical issues come up in health care every day, particularly when values conflict, or lead us in opposite directions. For example, tension can arise between our desire to help someone to get better and our belief that that person should be able to make health care decisions for them-selves, even if we disagree with their choices.
If you are a patient, or a loved one of a patient, you might find yourself wondering about the right thing to do, or questioning whether the right thing is being done.
If you are acting as a substitute decision-maker (SDM), you might feel unsure about the decision you should make for your loved one. If you are a patient, you might wonder about what you should, or what you can, choose for yourself. Members of the health care team who are facing a new clinical situation might question how to best live up to their professional ethical obligations.
Ethical issues can come up at any time
For example, what should be done if:
- a patient’s daughter and SDM thinks her mother is too emotionally fragile to hear that she has a serious illness?
- a patient who plans to receive medical assistance in dying (MAiD) asks a nurse to tell his son, who objects to MAiD, that he died in his sleep?
- a teenage patient wants to make her own medical decisions but her parents think they should make all important decisions on her behalf?
- a young child has been diagnosed with cancer and her parents believe she should be treated naturopathically rather than with chemotherapy as recommended by her physician?
These are just a few examples of ethical issues that come up within the hospital. If you find your-self asking “What should I do?”, it is likely that you are facing an ethical issue.
We are here to help
If you are facing an ethical issue, you do not have to work through it alone. Patients and their family members, as well as members of the healthcare team, are encouraged to contact the SHN Ethics Service to request a consultation with a clinical ethicist.
Please know that, although they may make recommendations, the clinical ethicist will not make health care decisions. Health care decisions are made by the treatment team, patients, and patient’s SDMs, depending on the circumstances. The Ethics Service helps decision-makers to make the best decisions possible.