Who Ya Gonna Call?


In its 2013 report on Eastern Health, Accreditation Canada commended the work of the Ethics Service with the following words:

There is a solid ethics consultation service which is recognized by staff members and well utilized. Eastern Health’s ethical framework and its joint partnership with the University Medical School in this area is recognized nationally for its achievements. Support is provided to the other health regions in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Read more about this valuable service in the following story by a member of the Ethics team:

Who Ya Gonna Call? Facing difficult decisions

Since joining Eastern Health’s Pastoral Care and Ethics Department two years ago, I have discovered that difficult choices are being faced by those around us every day. Examples include:

  • Should we tell our father he has cancer and only has a short time to live?
  • Should we turn off the respirator and allow this (terminally ill) patient to die?
  • We can no longer provide the care at home for our frail mother, who said she never wanted to go to a nursing home. What can we do?
  • We want to do what is best for our sick child, but we don’t know what that is. How do we decide?
  • We know a person who is refusing to accept help and support in his home. Can he live at risk?
  • Should we consent to the insertion of a feeding tube?

Difficult decisions

At times, having to make health care decisions for yourself, for someone you love, or for a person you are taking care of can be very difficult. You don’t have to face those decisions alone. At Eastern Health’s Ethics Consultation Service, we can help you work to an ethical decision in a difficult situation.

“Ethics” examines our basic moral values, helping us to understand what we should or should not do. Most times our values make it easy to determine the morally right thing to do.

Sometimes there can be a conflict of values within oneself or among people. For example, most people value telling the truth. They also value acting in a way that will not harm other people. But what if telling someone the truth about their medical condition might cause them distress.

Moral dilemmas

Who Ya Gonna Call? EthicsAny time two or more moral values conflict, we have a moral dilemma – and the right or wrong option is not always clear. I’ve found it both fascinating and rewarding to take part in ethics consults, knowing that I’m helping people work through very difficult situations. I’ve also gotten a better sense of what I might do if faced with those same kinds of tough choices – some of which I’d never thought about before!

During the past two years, I’ve also seen that not only are difficult clinical decisions having to be made, but that significant administrative challenges also require prudent choices.

As an example, in late February 2012, pharmacies across Canada were informed by Sandoz Canada that production capacity at their Quebec plant would be reduced for the next 12 to 18 months. This caused a shortage of some drugs including some critical injectable medications. Eastern Health spends just under $46 million annually in drugs, and with over six million doses of medication being dispensed each year in St. John’s alone, the impact of this drug shortage could not be underestimated!

Our Pastoral Care and Ethics Department responded to the challenge and crafted an ethics decision-making framework to assist during the course of planning for – or responding to – the drug shortage, a framework that has been adopted by regional health authorities across the country! The framework is a valuable tool for all health care professionals as it considers both the procedural and ethical sides of decision-making.

The Ethics Consultation Service, a service of Eastern Health’s Pastoral Care and Ethics Department, is available for patients, residents, clients, families, staff or anyone who needs help in making ethical decisions about health care. So…

If the situation is perplexing and your department finds it vexing… Who ya gonna call?
If the ethical dilemma is strong and you don’t know how to go on… Who ya gonna call?
Don’t face it alone – pick up the phone and call:

Eastern Health’s Ethics Consultation Service
(709) 777-8940

This story was written by Paul Grimes, a pastoral care clinician based at the Health Sciences Centre, St. John’s.

One response to “Who Ya Gonna Call?

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