Ethics in the trenches: preparing for ethical challenges in the emergency department

CJEM. 2002 Jan;4(1):45-8. doi: 10.1017/s1481803500006059.


Ethical issues can be more difficult to address in the emergency department than in other settings. We present two cases, with the goal of stimulating moral reflection and encouraging emergency physicians to gain a better understanding of two important ethical issues: advance directives and resource allocation decisions. Understanding the legal and ethical basis for advance directives allows emergency physicians to determine when the directives should be followed and when they should be questioned. Resource allocation decisions are among the toughest decisions emergency physicians make. Although patients or substitute decision-makers define the value of a treatment goal, emergency physicians must ensure that this goal does indeed represent the patient's wishes, that it is achievable, and that competing claims for the same resource are considered. Learning from others' experiences and preparing for ethical problems in advance will help physicians feel more comfortable in dealing with ethical issues.