October 8th, 2009

Life and death: Hospital ethics panels help families decide

By Kelley Luckstein

An infant is born with no functioning brain. A teen is ravaged in a car wreck. A 90-year-old with dementia andusa-today pneumonia lies unconscious in intensive care…

 

Every day, in a hospital somewhere in the USA, a group of strangers — the hospital ethics committee — is called in to help people make the choices of a lifetime…

 

The ethics team at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., noticed that the blizzard of messages from a constantly shifting medical staff left some families locked in indecision. In such situations now, Mayo assigns just one physician as the contact person, so patients and families can develop a trusting relationship.

 

"They are not going to believe a caregiver who wants to withdraw life support until they see that person has really tried to help," says Michael Bannon, a surgeon and chairman of the ethics subcommittee at Mayo.

 

Often, it's not really an ethical dilemma that brings in the ethics committee. It's a wrenching cry for support, says Sister Mary Eliot Crowley of St. Mary's Hospital, founded by Franciscan sisters and now part of the Mayo Clinic. Crowley says, "Our job then is to help them get clear and let go, to say, 'It's the disease, not you, taking your loved one's life.' "

 

USA Today by Cathy Lynn Grossman, 10/8/09

Tags: Ethics, life and death, Mayo Clinic Rochester

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