Patient control over dying: Responses of health care professionals
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Decisions concerning how, when and where patients should die have traditionally been the exclusive domain of health care professionals. More recently, patients and their families are demanding increasing control over these decisions. This paper reports on the responses of 20 physicians and 20 nurses in a major teaching hospital regarding the desire of patients to exert more control over the circumstances of their dying. The findings, based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews, suggest that while health care professionals are generally in favour of the principle of patient control over dying, they have reservations about accommodating patients' wishes in actual clinical situations. Key factors that underly their ambivalence on this point are: (1) specific patient circumstances, such as age, severity of illness and mental competence; (2) moral and legal concerns; and (3) the type of intervention requested by patient. The results indicate that patient control over dying represents a challenge to the clinical judgement of health care professionals; that it runs counter to their perception of their role as healers and supporters; that it raises crucial concerns about their personal ethics and legal liability and that it poses a challenge to their professional autonomy and power. It is likely that health care practitioners will increasingly be pressured to concede their autonomy and enter into a partnership with patients in the decision-making process.
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