Listen and Recommend: The Role of the Bioethicist
Emotions, at times, overrule rational thought. Medical crises may create a maelstrom of misunderstandings. Loved ones, medical teams, and the patient may not agree on what is the best treatment for a medical issue. Medical issues may have various forms of treatment options depending on the severity of the illness. When this occurs anger, hurt, and tensions are heightened, and communication begins to fall apart. In cases where conflict occurs, or clarification is needed, Ethics Consultants are called in to listen, evaluate, and give recommendations.
My friend asked me to join the ethics team consulting on a family/patient conflict. Before I agreed to join the team, I asked a few questions. I asked her if she had spoken with the family, the patient, and the doctor to gain insight into the choices and recommendations. Was there a way to speak with everyone before communication disintegrated between the parties? My recommendation was to gather everyone together for conflict resolution.
In this case, the family wants one form of treatment, the patient wants another, and the doctor is placed in the middle. The doctor wants to preserve the doctor-patient relationship by not being paternalistic and allowing the patient to exercise her autonomy. Conflict resolution allows all the parties to come together and discuss their concerns, clear up any misunderstandings, and agree on a course of action. Conflict resolution is beneficial because it provides everyone involved in a crisis to be heard and to listen to each other.
A few days later I asked my friend if the case had been resolved. My friend said it had and the family agreed to conflict resolution. The family gained greater insight into the medical issue as well as their loved one’s treatment of choice. The doctor gave recommendations after listening to both sides. The patient, the family, and the doctor agreed on a treatment plan that satisfies the needs and wants of the patient.