The response of a Swiss university hospital’s palliative care consult team to assisted suicide within the institution
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In January 2006 the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), a large university hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland, became the first hospital in Switzerland to allow assisted suicide (AS) in exceptional cases within its walls. However, euthanasia is illegal. This decision has posed several ethical and practical dilemmas for the hospital's palliative care consult service. To address these, the team embarked on a formal process of open dialogue amongst its members with the goal of identifying a collective response and position. This process involved meetings every 4 to 6 weeks over the course of 10 months. An iterative process unfolded. One of the principal dilemmas relates to finding a balance between the team's position against AS and the patient's autonomy and the institution's directive. Although all team members expressed opposition to AS, there were mixed opinions as to whether or not the team members should be present during the act if requested so by patients. Some thought this could be misinterpreted as complicity in the act and could send out mixed messages to the public and other health professionals about palliative care. Others felt that the team's commitment to nonabandonment obliged them to be present even if they did not provide the drug or give any advice or assistance. The implications of nonabandonment are explored, as are several other questions such as whether or not the teams are obliged to provide detailed information on AS when requested by patients.
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