To describe the substantive and procedural criteria used for placing patients on the waiting list for liver transplantation and for allocating available livers to patients on the waiting list; to identify principal decision-makers and the main factors limiting liver transplantation in Canada; and to examine how closely cadaveric liver allocation resembles theoretic models of source allocation.
Medical directors of all seven Canadian adult liver transplantation centres, or their designates. Six of the questionnaires were completed.
Relative importance of substantive and procedural criteria used to place patients in the waiting list for liver transplantation and to allocate available livers. Identification of principal decision-makers and main limiting factors to adult liver transplantation.
Alcoholism, drug addiction, HIV positivity, primary liver cancer, noncompliance and hepatitis B were the most important criteria that had a negative influence on decisions to place patients on the waiting list for liver transplantation. Severity of disease and urgency were the most important criteria used for selecting patients on the waiting list for transplantation. Criteria that were inconsistent across the centres included social support (for deciding who is placed on the waiting list) and length of time on the waiting list (for deciding who is selected from the list). Although a variety of people were reported as being involved in these decisions, virtually all were reported to be health to be health care professionals. Thirty-seven patients died while waiting for liver transplantation in 1991; the scarcity of cadaveric livers was the main limiting factor.
Criteria for resource allocation decisions regarding liver transplantation are generally consistent among the centres across Canada, although some important inconsistencies remain. Because patients die while on the waiting list and because the primary limiting factor is organ supply, increased organ acquisition efforts are needed.
Family physicians can play an important role in helping patients and their families to discuss life-sustaining treatments and to complete advance directives. This article reviews the legal status of, and empirical studies on, advance directives and addresses some important clinical questions about their use relevant to family practice.
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Patients are entitled to make decisions about their medical care and to be given relevant information on which to base such decisions. The physicians obligation to obtain the patient's consent to treatment is grounded in the ethical principles of patient autonomy and respect for persons and is affirmed by Canadian law and professional policy. A large body of research supports the view that the process of obtaining consent can improve patient satisfaction and compliance and, ultimately, health outcomes. An exception to the requirement to obtain consent is the emergency treatment of incapable persons, provided there is no reason to believe that the treatment would be contrary to the person's wishes if he or she were capable.
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In the context of consent, "voluntariness" refers to a patient's right to make health care choices free of any undue influence. However, a patient's freedom to make choices can be compromised by internal factors such as pain and by external factors such as force, coercion and manipulation. In exceptional circumstances--for example, involuntary admission to hospital--patients may be denied their freedom of choice; in such circumstances the least restrictive means possible of managing the patient should always be preferred. Clinicians can minimize the impact of controlling factors on patients' decisions by promoting awareness of available choices, inviting questions and ensuring that decisions are based on an adequate, unbiased disclosure of the relevant information.
Substitute decision-making is a means of making health care decisions on behalf of people who are incapable of making these decisions for themselves. It is based on the ethical principle of respect for autonomy. Substitute decision-making poses two main questions: Who-should make the decision for the incapable person, and, How should the decision be made? Because the applicable statutory and common law varies across Canada, clinicians should become familiar with the legal requirements of their own province or territory.
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The standard of professional candour with patients has undergone a significant change over the past 30 years. Independent of their obligation to disclose information necessary for informed consent, physicians are increasingly expected to communicate important information to patients that is not immediately related to treatment decisions. The purpose of truth telling is not simply to enable patients to make informed choices about health care and other aspects of their lives but also to inform them about their situation. Truth telling fosters trust in the medical profession and rests on the respect owed to patients as persons. It also prevents harm, as patients who are uninformed about their situation may fail to get medical help when they should.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide involve taking deliberate action to end or assist in ending the life of another person on compassionate grounds. There is considerable disagreement about the acceptability of these acts and about whether they are ethically distinct from decisions to forgo life-sustaining treatment. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are punishable offences under Canadian criminal law, despite increasing public pressure for a more permissive policy. Some Canadian physicians would be willing to practise euthanasia and assisted suicide if these acts were legal. In practice, physicians must differentiate between respecting competent decisions to forgo treatment, providing appropriate palliative care, and acceeding to a request for euthanasia or assisted suicide. Physicians who believe that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legally accepted in Canada should pursue their convictions only through legal and democratic means.
A physician who receives a call from the emergency department to see a patient with heart failure will have a clear framework within which to approach this problem. The thesis of this article is that physicians do not have an analogous conceptual framework for approaching end-of-life care. The authors present and describe a framework for end-of-life care with 3 main elements: control of pain and other symptoms, the use of life-sustaining treatments and support of those who are dying and their families. This 3-part framework can be used by clinicians at the bedside to focus their effort in improving the quality of end-of-life care.
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Demands by Patients or their Families for treatment thought to be inappropriate by health care providers constitute an important set of moral problems in clinical practice. A variety of approaches to such cases have been described in the literature, including medical futility, standard of care and negotiation. Medical futility fails because it confounds morally distinct cases: demand for an ineffective treatment and demand for an effective treatment that supports a controversial end (e.g., permanent unconsciousness). Medical futility is not necessary in the first case and is harmful in the second. Ineffective treatment falls outside the standard of care, and thus health care workers have no obligation to provide it. Demands for treatment that supports controversial ends are difficult cases best addressed through open communication, negotiation and the use of conflict-resolution techniques. Institutions should ensure that fair and unambiguous procedures for dealing with such cases are laid out in policy statements.
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