Honoring the Moral Concerns of Caregivers Afraid of Giving Morphine

Joan’s breathing relaxes as the morphine starts working. Her son Travis, on the other hand, is clearly upset as we sit at her bedside where she is dying. Despite his mother’s intense respiratory distress before he gave her the morphine, he’s convinced that he’s just made a big mistake. “I’m sorry, mama,” he whispers.

He turns his head my way. “I wish you hospice folks had never brought that morphine out here,” he says. “Now she’s dead for sure and it’s my fault.”

A sometimes essential medication.

For caregivers with this level of fear about morphine, it’s a painful dilemma. If you don’t use the best, sometimes the only, medication we have for getting acute respiratory distress in terminally ill patients under control, both patient and caregiver suffer. But if giving morphine is freighted, as it is for Travis, with a belief that it causes death and/or signifies giving up on, even betraying, a loved one, it can intensify a caregiver’s distress.

The hospice nurse had already given the standard education, assuring Travis that in patients near the end of life morphine is safe and effective when used as prescribed. We had given him written information debunking some of the common myths about morphine—“it kills you”; “makes you crazy”; “it’s addictive”—when used appropriately with hospice patients who have active symptoms. We had promised to […]

2018-01-22T10:19:38+00:00 January 22nd, 2018|Ethics, family caregiving, Nursing, pain management|0 Comments

A Closer Look at the Joint Commission’s New Guidelines for Pain Assessment and Management

Photo © Burger / Phanie / Science Photo Library.

Starting on January 1, 2018, the Joint Commission’s new and revised pain assessment and management standards for accredited hospitals will go into effect. Notably, the guidelines—as we report in a November news article—address safe opioid prescribing practices.

Among new requirements, the Joint Commission says hospitals should:

  • Designate a leader or team responsible for pain management and safe opioid prescribing.
  • Include patients in developing a pain management treatment plan—including realistic expectations and measurable goals—and educate them on discharge plans related to opioid adverse effects and safe use, storage, and disposal of opioids.
  • Use prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) databases to identify patients at risk for opioid addiction.
  • Identify opioid addiction treatment programs for patient referrals.
  • Inform staff about consultation and referral services available for patients with complex pain management needs.
  • Collect and analyze data on pain assessment and management to identify areas in which safety and quality could be improved.

The full list of new and revised guidelines is available here. How might these changes affect life for nurses and patients? Comments are welcome below.

2017-12-13T15:23:52+00:00 November 17th, 2017|Nursing, pain management, patient experience|3 Comments

Brain Injury. Undocumented Patient. Who Decides About Treatment?

When an unauthorized immigrant suffers a brain injury, who decides when treatment is withdrawn? An ethical dilemma touches on issues of clinician autonomy and justice versus patient and family autonomy.

© Photolibrary Wales/ Albany Stock Photo.

Imagine that someone you love—a young person—suddenly collapses and is rushed to the hospital. Her heart is restarted, but it soon becomes apparent that there has been extensive anoxic brain injury. In a vegetative state, on a ventilator, no ability to follow commands, spastic extremities, an EEG showing continuous seizure activity. . . . and this person is an undocumented immigrant. And uninsured.

In this month’s AJN, Kimberly Radtke and Marianne Matzo present a fictional case (based on their real-life experience in palliative care) to illustrate the ways in which this kind of scenario might play out. The parents are overwhelmed, trying to make decisions while they are still in shock. Physicians soon express their concerns about prolonging “medically inappropriate care.” And who will pay for it?

In addition, hospitalization due to critical illness increases an unauthorized immigrant’s risk of repatriation without their consent. What must the family be feeling as they struggle to understand their daughter’s future?

The role of the ethics committee.

Radtke and Matzo discuss the many ethical dilemmas that are raised […]

2017-11-17T15:19:22+00:00 November 13th, 2017|Ethics, Nursing|0 Comments

Workarounds May Work, But They Perpetuate Dysfunction

Photo © Associated Press

A couple of months ago, we posted a query on Facebook asking visitors to the page if they had ever used workarounds—the improvised shortcuts that may not be the standard practice or the policy, but may allow for more efficient work processes. We were amazed at the uniformity of the responses. No one saw a problem with workarounds, and most responded along the lines of “I love my workarounds—couldn’t do my job without them” and “I’ll never tell—keep hands off my workarounds.”

Nothing new.

Workarounds have probably been around since Florence Nightingale’s day—I can imagine one of her nurses at Scutari hiding lamp oil so she’d have enough to make rounds at night. In my early nursing days, we hid sheets so we’d have some in case we needed an extra bed change for a patient. When I worked in the ER of a busy city hospital, we kept a pretty large supply of IV fluids and medications on hand in a closet. It became a well-known secret that the ER had its own stockpile—in fact, there were occasions when the pharmacy would come to us for meds!

Today, the workarounds I hear about tend to revolve around dealing with the electronic health record and scanning medication bar codes.

Some cautions.

In this month’s article, “Workarounds […]

A Nurse Takes a Stand—and Gets Arrested

image via Wikimedia Commons / Jacklee

Douglas P. Olsen, PhD, RN, associate professor, College of Nursing, Michigan State University, writes about ethical issues for AJN.

On July 26, Alex Wubbels, charge nurse at the University of Utah Hospital burn unit in Salt Lake City, showed extraordinary ethical courage that will serve as an example for my students for a long time to come. She refused a police detective access to an unconscious patient so he could draw a blood sample, citing clear violation of hospital regulations, which require patient consent, a court warrant, or that the patient is under arrest. After a short, tense discussion, she was roughly handcuffed and put in a police vehicle by the detective. I recommend watching the video of the incident, although parts of it are quite disturbing. According to various analyses reported in the media, the hospital and Wubbels were legally correct and the detective’s view of her legal obligations was wrong.

All treatment, even the most minimally invasive, can be refused by a patient and therefore requires the patient’s informed consent. There are limited exceptions under which treatment can be provided without patient consent. These include:

  • When the patient lacks decision-making capacity
  • When the patient is dangerous and has a mental […]
2017-09-02T09:55:06+00:00 September 2nd, 2017|Ethics, Nursing|11 Comments