The practice of palliative care typically refers to the focus of treatment as the patient and family. Tending to the needs of both patients and their families is usually good, but what should clinicians do when they perceive the best interests, needs, or treatment preferences of the patient are in conflict with those of the family or other surrogate? Physicians may be able to suppress the inevitable moral cognitive dissonance of such circumstances, write orders, and walk away, but other health care professionals, especially nurses, may not have it so easy. This article suggests practical steps to obviate conflict in such circumstances before offering an ethical analysis focusing on notions of autonomy, beneficence, and true caring for patients, especially those near the end of life. The limitations of surrogate decision makers are considered and legal liability concerns are briefly explored, ultimately leading to the conclusion that keeping the patient at the center is sine qua non of patient- and family-centered care.
Copyright © 2010 U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.