Dominic Wilkinson’s Posts

Must Clinical Ethics Committees Involve Patients or Families in their Meetings?

By Dominic Wilkinson @Neonatalethics and Michael Dunn @ethical_mikey

In a high court case reported last week, a judge strongly criticised a London hospital’s clinical ethics committee (CEC). The case related to disputed treatment for a gravely ill nine-year old child. There had been a breakdown in the relationship between the clinical team and the child’s parents. Prior to going to court, the clinicians had referred the case to the CEC. The committee had heard evidence from the medical professionals involved, and apparently reached consensus that further invasive life prolonging treatments were not in the child’s best interests. However, the committee had not involved the parents in the meeting. The judge found this omission striking and regrettable. She noted

“a lack of involvement by patients and/or their families is itself an issue of medical ethics and I am most surprised that there is not guidance in place to ensure their involvement and/or participation. … the absence of any prior consultation or participation, cannot be good practice and should generally be unacceptable.”
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Pandemic Ethics: Extreme Altruism in a Pandemic

Written by Julian Savulescu and Dominic Wilkinson

Cross-posted with the Journal of Medical Ethics blog

Altruism is one person sacrificing or risking his or her own interests for another’s interests. Humans, like other animals, have a tendency towards altruism. This is usually directed to members of their own group. An example is donating a kidney to a family member. This is quite risky – it involves immediate risk of death from anaesthesia or post-operative complications, and long term risk of kidney failure.

But sometimes people are altruistic towards strangers.

Altruism often involves fairly small personal sacrifices. (For example, most people donate to charity, but in countries like the UK, it is typically only a tiny proportion of their income) Where someone can cause great benefit to another person at little or no personal cost, there is an ethical obligation for them to do so. This is the Duty of Easy Rescue. A whole movement has arisen called Effective Altruism which aims to ensure that altruistic acts do as much good as possible.

Altruism can also be extreme. Some people give up their entire livelihood to work overseas for aid agencies or charities. During a pandemic, health workers may take on significant personal risk to provide front-line medical care. In times of war, people may choose to literally give their life for others of their nation.

We can define extreme altruism as an act taken for the benefit of another that involves making large life-altering or life-threatening sacrifices or personal risks.

Society’s approach to extreme altruism is inconsistent. At times of obvious societal need, it encourages it (for example, clapping on the doorstep for ‘key workers’ is in order to offer our appreciation for their altruistic assumption of great risk) or even requires it by conscription of military personnel. At times of perceived lesser need, it is discouraged or even banned. For example, in normal times people are only allowed to take part in research, even if they do so with full knowledge and for no payment, if the risk of the research is minimal, and not if the risks are similar to everyday life. In some jurisdictions, altruistic kidney donations to strangers are banned.

It is not clear why extreme altruism should be limited to national emergency. If someone is competent, knows all the relevant facts, and is thinking clearly and choosing autonomously, they should be able to sacrifice their interests or even life for others. If someone is permitted to participate in highly risky personal activities for purely personal benefit (e.g. climbing Mount Everest, base jumping, or boxing) they ought to be permitted to at least take equivalent risks for the benefit of someone else (e.g. participating in research). Just as a rational, clear thinking person who is competent should be able to sacrifice their own life through suicide for any reason, they should be able to do this for the benefit of others.

We have argued at various points for extreme altruism in medicine. In one sense, there is a constant national emergency: we are all aging and slowly dying. There is a war against aging and death: we are fighting it with medicine. And people should be able sacrifice their interests or lives in this war. 

Extreme altruism extended to COVID-19

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Pandemic Ethics: Key Workers Have a Stronger Claim to Compensation and Hazard Pay for Working During The COVID-19 Pandemic Than The Armed Forces Do When on Deployment

By Doug McConnell and Dominic Wilkinson

Post originally appeared on the Journal of Medical Ethics Blog

 

While the general public enjoy the relative safety of social distancing, key workers are at a higher risk of both contracting COVID-19 and transmitting it to their families. This is especially the case for ‘frontline’ workers who are frequently exposed to the virus and may not have access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Tragically, many key workers have died of COVID-19 around the world already, including over 100 in the UK.

Although it is relatively rare for key workers to die from COVID-19, the risk of death is obviously much greater than one would usually expect in these roles and key workers clearly have good reason to be anxious. For ‘frontline’ workers, the distress is compounded by working in harrowing conditions where so many are dying alone. Furthermore, frontline workers have to take on the burdens of ensuring they do not transmit infections to their families, by moving in with patients, living in hotels, or maintaining rigorous social distancing in their own homes.

These atypical costs, risks, and burdens suggest that key workers are owed compensation in addition to their usual pay and a few instances of nationally coordinated applause. Continue reading

National Ethics Framework For Use in Acute Paediatric Settings During COVID-19 Pandemic

This ethical framework is a modification of guidance developed for treatment decisions relating to adults. The principles relating to decisions for children in the setting of the pandemic are the same as those for adults. The framework emphasises that decisions should be ethically consistent and apply to patients both with COVID-related and non-COVID related illness.
The focus of the ethical framework provides guidance for a situation where there is extremely high demand and limited critical care capacity. However, it is important to note that at the time of writing (14 April 2020) there is enough paediatric critical care capacity across the UK. At the present time decisions about children in need of critical care should reflect the same fundamental ethical considerations as apply in normal times. Those decisions should be focused on the best interests of the child, and actively involve parents in decision-making.
The framework is available to read in full on the  Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health website.

Cross Post: Boris Johnson Will Be Receiving The Same Special Treatment Other Patients Do In NHS Intensive Care

Written by Dominic Wilkinson, University of Oxford

This article originally appeared in The Conversation

In a world where the adjective “unprecedented” has become commonplace, the news of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson being admitted to the intensive care unit of St Thomas’ Hospital with COVID-19 seemed to take it to a new level.

There is little information in the public domain about Johnson’s medical condition, but this is clearly a very serious step. He will only have been transferred to intensive care because it is perceived that his condition is potentially life threatening and there is a possibility that he would need urgent medical attention, including the possible use of mechanical ventilation.

What would happen if that became necessary? Would Johnson’s treatment be any different from anyone else with the same condition? Would he receive special treatment because of his political position, because of his importance for the country? Would he be prioritised for a ventilator? Continue reading

Pandemic Ethics: Who gets the ventilator in the coronavirus pandemic? These are the ethical approaches to allocating medical care

By Julian Savulescu and Dominic Wilkinson

Cross-posted from ABC Online

Imagine there are two patients with respiratory failure.

Joan is 40, normally employed with two children and no other health conditions or disabilities. Mary is 80, with severe dementia, in a nursing home.

In the Western world, doctors are gearing up for an explosion of cases of COVID-19 and with a massive shortage of medical resources, including life-saving ventilators, they are likely to be presented with dilemmas of exactly this kind.

It is undeniable that people should have an equal chance when there are sufficient resources.

But when there are limited resources, doctors do take various factors into account.

Read more: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-18/ethics-of-medical-care-ventilator-in-the-coronavirus-pandemic/12063536

Cross Post: Coronavirus: The Conversation We Should Have With Our Loved Ones Now – Leading Medic

Written by Dominic Wilkinson, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Waiting is never easy. Sometimes the period when you know that something bad is coming is almost harder than when it finally arrives.

Across the health service, there is an enormous and unprecedented effort underway to prepare for the coming surge of patients needing hospital treatment for coronavirus. Looking across to the experience in Italy, Spain and Germany, we know that there is a tsunami coming – a tidal wave of medical need that will swamp us, test us, sweep some of us away.

The analogy with a tsunami is apt because we are at the moment when the waters pull back before the great wave arrives. Some hospitals are eerily quiet; elective surgery has stopped, and some wards have been emptied. Our healthcare workers are anxiously waiting and preparing for what is coming.

Of course, many ordinary people are also waiting, not knowing exactly what lies ahead and fearing the worst. How can they, how can we – all of us – prepare?

The answer is not to panic. But nor should we ignore or downplay the seriousness of the situation. And certainly, it is not to stockpile pasta or loo paper. Continue reading

Lifesaving Treatment for Babies Born at 22 weeks Doesn’t Mean Abortion Law Should Change.

Recommendation for life support from 22 weeks.
Kristina Bessolova/Shutterstock

Dominic Wilkinson, University of Oxford

When new guidance relating to the outcome and medical care of babies born extremely prematurely was recently released, it led some to call for UK abortion law to be revised.

This was because one of the new recommendations from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine is that it is sometimes appropriate to provide resuscitation and active medical treatment for babies born at 22 weeks gestation (four and a half months before their due date). This is a week earlier than was recommended in the last version of the framework, published in 2008.

The argument goes that the new guidance creates a “contradiction in British law” because extremely premature infants can now be resuscitated before the point in pregnancy where abortion law changes.
A spokesperson for campaign group Right to Life UK said: “In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive before 24 weeks whilst in another room a doctor could perform an abortion which would end the life of a baby at the same age. Surely this contradiction needs to end?” Continue reading

Press Release: Tafida Raqeeb

Professor Dominic Wilkinson, Professor of Medical Ethics, University of Oxford. Consultant Neonatologist

 

This morning, the High Court judgement around medical treatment for five-year old Tafida Raqeeb was published. Tafida sustained severe brain damage from bleeding in the brain eight months ago. Her parents wish to take her to a hospital in Italy to continue life support, while the doctors at the London hospital caring for her believe that it would be best to stop life support and allow Tafida to die.

 

Justice MacDonald concluded today that life sustaining treatment for Tafida must continue and her parents should be allowed to take her to Italy. Continue reading

Press Release: Tafida Raqeeb, International Disagreement and Controversial Decisions About Life Support

by Dominic Wilkinson @Neonatalethics

 

This week the legal case around medical treatment for five-year old Tafida Raqeeb has begun in the High Court. She sustained severe brain damage from bleeding in the brain seven months ago. Her parents wish to take her to a hospital in Italy for further treatment, while the doctors at the London hospital caring for her believe that it would be best to stop life support and allow Tafida to die.

 

In a previous press release, I addressed several common questions about the case:

  • This seems to be another case like that of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans. How common are cases of disagreement in the medical care of children?
  • Why do disagreements occur?
  • Why don’t parents have the final say about treatment?
  • Who is right in Tafida’s case, her parents, or the doctors?

 

There appear to be two central questions in her case –

  1. Is there any realistic chance of her condition improving if life-support continues?
  2. If Tafida’s condition does not improve, should treatment to keep her alive continue, or should it stop (particularly, if her parents do not give permission to withdraw treatment)?

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