April 4, 2013

ECH Ethics Committee available to weigh in

ELIZABETHTOWN — An uninsured farmer was diagnosed with life-threatening cardiac issues and did not want to burden his family financially.

So he declined treatment and did not want his wife to know.

That was a mock case mulled by the Elizabethtown Community Hospital Ethics Committee recently.

Should the physician ignore the man’s wishes and call the wife, opening the door for further discussion on treatments that might save the farmer’s life?

It was a complex issue, involving the privacy of the patient through the American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other matters, and the committee discussed it at length.

David Scaglione, an attorney for the Ethics Committee, observed that, had the case involved a child, “your job is in his best interest, even though he might not want you to tell. 

“However, a case like this is a tougher call. If the client is being stupid, should you go along with him?”

The committee came up with several recommendations, but, ultimately, it was up to the doctor to make the final determination. 


At a California assisted-living facility not long ago, a staff member refused to give CPR to a woman who had collapsed and subsequently died. 

The 911 dispatcher pleaded with the caller to render assistance, but the staffer complied with the protocol of the establishment. 

Though the convening of an ethics committee certainly wasn’t an option as that unfolded, the tragic incident cast a spotlight on ethics and health care.

The purpose of the ECH committee is the analysis of ethical questions that arise. 

“There are many people who are not aware that there is this forum,” ECH Director of Quality Denise Plano said. 

“We have to be an advocate for the patient and be proactive. We have to maintain confidentiality but also must try to get the patient to have treatment.

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