I’m fortunate to live near the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. The school has a medical school, nursing school, dental school, and pharmacy school. Having these four disciplines on one campus affords them the opportunity to create programming that cuts across all four professions. They recently started a monthly ethics discussion raising issues the staff and students may/will come across in their careers.
Yesterday’s talk was about Physician Assisted Death, a topic that not only cuts across cultural and religious arenas, it is also being debated in many state legislatures. The presentation focused on two cases, both women, a twenty year old with end stage ovarian cancer and a forty-eight year old with leukemia. The cases were both interesting, but what I found particularly interesting were the responses by some of the students about the ethics involved.
I’ve been a mental health practioner for over twenty-five years. I’ve spent most of my career working with those diagnosed with chronic and life-threatening illness and I can tell you, you never know what how you’re going to react until you’re in the situation. Training is good because it gives you a basis for your decisions, but it’s the things not in text books that float around you like a cloud waiting to rain down at any given moment.
One of the things that caught me off guard was one student who was quite vocal. He was responding to a question from the moderator, but his sense of surety was a bit unsettling. I believe in having conviction but when it shuts off the possibility of anything contrary entering one’s consciousness I get concerned. My hope is that when these students enter clinical work and throughout their careers they will have the awareness that nothing in ethics is black or white. If you’re not comfortable with the “gray” zone, then perhaps medicine is not the right field for them.
What can I tell you after participating in yesterday’s dialogue? Create operational definitions with your physician about what you mean when you use words like suffering, distress, and control to describe your health. Have as many things written down in your medical chart about your wishes about care, especially end-of-life care. Don’t’ leave it up to the medical staff to assume, guess, or translate your wishes, make it know and do so with conviction.
The less you leave up for interpretation. Give yourself the peace of mind you need and deserve by having the hard dialogues with your medical providers. It will save you a lot of trouble and will reduce the risk that your wishes won’t be honored!
Facing a chronic or life-threatening illness? Looking for education, support, and inspiration? Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com
Want to express yourself through art? Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com
Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2