Abortion, particularly later-term abortion, and neonaticide, selective non-treatment of newborns, are feasible management strategies for fetuses or newborns diagnosed with severe abnormalities. However, policy varies considerably among developed nations. This article examines abortion and neonatal policy in four nations: Israel, the US, the UK and Denmark. In Israel, late-term abortion is permitted while non-treatment of newborns is prohibited. In the US, on the other hand, later-term abortion is severely restricted, while treatment to newborns may be withdrawn. Policy in the UK and Denmark bridges some of these gaps with liberal abortion and neonatal policy. Disparate policy within and between nations creates practical and ethical difficulties. Practice diverges from policy as many practitioners find it difficult to adhere to official policy. Ethically, it is difficult to entirely justify perinatal policy in these nations. In each nation, there are elements of ethically sound policy, while other aspects cannot be defended. Ethical policy hinges on two underlying normative issues: the question of fetal/newborn status and the morality of killing and letting die. While each issue has been the subject of extensive debate, there are firm ethical norms that should serve as the basis for coherent and consistent perinatal policy. These include 1) a grant of full moral and legal status to the newborn but only partial moral and legal status to the late-term fetus 2) a general prohibition against feticide unless to save the life of the mother or prevent the birth of a fetus facing certain death or severe pain or suffering and 3) a general endorsement of neonaticide subject to a parent's assessment of the newborn's interest broadly defined to consider physical harm as well as social, psychological and or financial harm to related third parties. Policies in each of the nations surveyed diverging from these norms should be the subject of public discourse and, where possible, legislative reform.
The phenomenon of patient homicides committed by health service employees has, in the previous years, repeatedly aroused much attention. The cases made known in Germany, the USA, Holland, Norway, and Austria appear to provide evidence to the effect that we are not only dealing with unique incidents. The scientific investigation of this especially sensitive taboo-topic is, to date, missing. The judicial trials carried out emphatically indicate that culprit motives, colleague behavior, but also to a large extent decisions made by superiors remain unclear. It remains controversial, what effect working conditions, strain of employees, their level of education and personal viewpoints over such criminal acts they possess. Finally, the long latency period between the first internal suspicions and the responsible parties' appropriate reactions requires duplicatable explanation. The following paper presents a German single-case study of patient homicide by a female nurse. The focus on causality rests on the presentation of developments up to the point where the long-fermenting suspicion could no longer be dismissed, and appropriate consequences took place. The account largely avoids the "definite" findings required during the judicial process. It concerns rather above all an open, uncertain, and possibly without external influence course of development which in stages each colleague in the health professions can trace, to the point where the uncertain and horrifying suspicion became a certainty. With this single-case study in hand it is made understandable in which ways personal circumstances and professional conditions at the worksituation can intertwine in such a way that the original motivation to help turns into its abysmal opposite. It is the author's intention to make preventive learning possible through this single case study. Every employee in the health professions should proceed on the assumption that such occurrences could also in his own field of work come to pass. In this respect, it is of considerable importance to differentiate between hasty and untenable incriminations and original increasing early-warning signs.
The implementation of a living will can give rise to ethical dilemmas for the patient's family and the health care professionals involved. The case reported here raises questions about the right of patients to self-determination, the importance of quality-of-life considerations in treatment decisions and physicians' obligations with respect to the implementation of living wills. Physicians should ensure in advance that the instructions set out in a living will are unambiguous and should bring to the patient's attention any ethical difficulties that they foresee in carrying out those instructions.
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The growing interest in the subject of active euthanasia in connection with the debate regarding legalization of such practices in Denmark necessitates taking a definite standpoint. The difference in concept between active and passive euthanasia is stressed, and the Dutch guidelines are reviewed. The article discusses how far the patient's autonomy should go, as it regards the consideration of self-determination as being too narrow a criterion in itself. The discussion on the quality of life is included, and the consequences of the process of expulsion as a sociological concept are considered--the risk of a patient feeling guilty for being alive and therefore feeling compelled to request active euthanasia. The changed function of the physician is underlined, and it is discussed whether active euthansia will cause a breach of confidence between the physician and his patient. In connection with the debate the following tendencies in society are emphasized: lack of clarity, increasing medicalization and utilitarian priorities.
The author reports on six months' experience of obtaining advance directives from patients for care in a family practice. Patients were questioned about their preferences for comfort or prolonging life and then were asked to delegate a substitute decision maker. Of 20 patients, all who responded chose comfort over prolonging life. Delegated substitute decision makers included spouses, children, and professionals or friends. In this population, patients overwhelmingly favoured comfort over prolonging life in the event that they might be irreversibly disabled, and they tended to choose spouses or other first-degree relatives as substitute decision makers.
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