In this session, we will be focusing on the Ethical Framework of VIRTUES (see Ethics Worksheet). We will investigate one of the primary obligations of clinicians: respect for patient autonomy, and consider what this might mean in more complex clinical cases.
The video reviews the following concepts:
**Keep in mind that this session will focus on cases that are meant to draw out population level biases, discrimination and other ethical concerns in particular clinical interactions. We will return to addressing societal, systematic, and broader justice issues in other sessions (see Justice in Healthcare). Likewise, we will come back to system level methods of advocacy (including advocacy for clinicians with underrepresented minority identities) in other sessions. Here, our intention is to start thinking creatively about how to be in relationship with particular patients in complex contexts.**
Goal: See a physician’s perspective on what empathy means and how it matters in the clinical setting.
Context: Physicians and patients alike will agree that empathy is integral to patient care. But it is not as easy as we might think. Empathy is not unlike other clinical skills and practices. Take learning to listen to a heart. We begin with simple instructions about how to use a stethoscope and then slowly build more precise attunement to any irregularities in heartbeat. In empathy, we begin with simple questions like “how do you feel today?”, but experience, practice, and knowledge will create greater attunement to the feelings of others. This article by Dr. Shapiro is just one step in the direction of building the knowledge necessary to becoming an excellently empathically attuned physician.
Goal: Consider the different language we use and how it might be interpreted differently from another’s perspective, this is an important skill to hone in developing one’s empathy
Context: The conversation in this video is an excellent example of what it means to be curious, humble, trustworthy and empathic in conversation with others and across similarities and differences. Sunaura Taylor is an artist and writer, she articulates the social model of disability and demonstrates its presence in her life excellently. Taylor and Butler call on us to think about how what our bodies can do in the world depends on what the world allows physically and through social norms. Most importantly, Taylor and Butler show us how important it is to know about the experiences of others by talking with them and privileging their perspective by always remaining curious and open.
SHIFTING GEARS A LITTLE… We’re going to look at the intersection of virtue and the complicated context of IV drug use and addiction. This reading will be directly relevant to an in-class exercise in which students will be expected to participate in a mock family meeting.
(4) READ this publication by Dr. Kirkpatrick (Cardiologist and Ethics Consultant at UWMC):
Goal: Categorize some of the central ethics conflicts and uncertainties in cases where IV drug use complicates the efficacy of medical interventions. This will be key to a successful fishbowl family meeting exercise.
Context: Dr. Kirkpatrick uses a case and casuistic comparisons to critically reflect on the meaning of the term ‘futility’ in contexts where a patient’s addiction to IV drugs might be taken as a reason against pursuing a particular medical intervention.
(5) OPTIONAL PREP FOR MOCK FAMILY MEETING: in light of what you’ve read in Dr. Kirkpatrick’s article, review the following case…
Moira is 28yrs old with two children (7 and 9yrs old). She has a history of injection opioid and meth use, and is admitted for fever and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteremia. Moira has been admitted several times over the past 6 years for S. aureus endocarditis, had a mitral valve repair for an anterior leaflet perforation 5 years ago, and then a bioprosthetic valve replacement 2 years ago. Although she has tried rehabilitation programs a number of times in the past, she relapsed 2 months ago and continues to inject heroin. Each time she’s been admitted, staff have been hopeful seeing her recover, but also frustrated by each new admission. When an echocardiogram is done during this current admission, she is found to have a large vegetation on her bioprosthetic mitral valve, with a small perivalvular abscess. She is currently receiving antibiotics and being considered for a valve replacement. Her surgeon believes that a mechanical valve would be the best option for long-term cardiac function, but is concerned that she won’t adhere to anticoagulation therapy and could reinfect the valve, given her ongoing injection drug use.
Moira alternates between passive acceptance of her care and anger at staff. She will sometimes knock food off her tray, throw her bedpan, or verbally lash out at medical staff (e.g. “just leave me alone!” or “don’t pretend you care!”). Because of this, staff members have warned each other to take caution when entering her room. Moira has a “behavior contract” and often behaves more passively when her father (Rick) is in the room. So, the medical team typically waits until the father is present to conference with the patient. Moira is often alone in her room as her father is very busy with his job and taking care of Moira’s two children.
The surgical team disagrees about whether or not to offer the valve surgery to Moira. While one of her nurses doesn’t understand why it has not yet been offered, another feels burnt out from caring for Moira over several admissions and is frustrated by Moira’s lack of participation in her care. Similarly, while the attending surgeon is reluctant to do another valve replacement knowing it will not fix Moira’s underlying disease (her addiction), the resident believes that she is a sufficiently good candidate medically and it will likely allow her more time (months to years) with her family.
Moira and her family are experiencing homelessness. She had been staying in a shelter with her children prior to the current admission. While the children’s father is not present, Moira’s father Rick is very involved in her care and is in the process of adopting the two children.
Should Moira be offered a third heart surgery?
Family Meeting: The care team, Moira and her dad will meet in a family meeting to explore Moira’s goals, and the previous challenges in her care, in order to inform future care decisions, including the possibility of a future valve replacement.
 These findings mean that she has endocarditis again and the perivalvular abscess is an indication for surgery.
For further investigation on addiction, see…
- Dr. Maté’s website: https://drgabormate.com/.
- This short article describing the power of narrative to see different viewpoints on the fentanyl poisoning crisis: Living with Pain and Opioid Addiction: Bioethics Narratives
- If you’re feeling eager for more on empathy… explore this article on How to Teach Doctors Empathy which talks about the growing emphasis on empathy training for health care professionals and describes a few such trainings across the country.
- Also, we highly recommend watching this TED Talk on addiction and social connection: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong | Johann Hari