This narrative is written with the intent to encourage physicians as well as other healthcare professionals to use judicial processes, such as those provided by the Ontario Consent and Capacity Board, to help resolve conflict with treatment decisions between care providers and decision-makers. Through the presentation of a fictional yet common case scenario, it is argued that after all attempts at mediation have been attempted that the timely use of a third party is in the patient's, the family's and the healthcare team's best interests.
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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Where there are clear clinical indications that a patient suffering from a terminal illness would not benefit from cardiopulmonary resuscitation, there is no legal or ethical requirement that CPR be discussed with the patient as a treatment option or that CPR be administered if the patient stops breathing or suffers cardiac arrest.
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The present state of the law in relation to dying persons is in a state of uncertainty primarily because there has not yet been a clear jurisprudential indication of the meaning to be given to a certain number of sections of the Canadian Criminal Code dealing with the subject. I propose to briefly discuss the law as it now exists and to refer to a working paper (No. 28) of the Law Reform Commission of canada called "Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and Cessation of Treatment".
Family physicians are often called upon to pronounce and certify the deaths of patients. Inadequate knowledge of the Coroners Act (in the province of Ontario) and of the correct process of certifying death can make physicians uncomfortable when confronted with these tasks.
To educate family physicians about how to perform the administrative tasks required of them when patients die.
The program included an educational video, a tutorial outlining the process of death certification, and discussion with a regional coroner about key features of the Coroners Act. In small groups, participants worked through cases of patient deaths in which they were asked to determine whether a coroner needed to be involved, to determine the manner of death, and to complete a mock death certificate for each case.
All participants reported a high level of satisfaction with the workshop and thought the main objective of the program had been achieved. Results of a test given 3 months after the workshop showed substantial improvement in participants' knowledge of the coroner's role and of the process of death certification.
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