Bioethics Blogs

Tips for Better Communication in the ICU

A superstar team of palliative care ethicists, critical ethicists, and surgical ethicists offers a great 2-page essay in a recent issue of the American Journal of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine.  

In a nutshell, they recommend NOT asking surrogates what the patient would “want.”  This focuses on treatments instead of on goals.  It focuses on medical strategies instead of on the value of different outcomes.  Moreover, “want” evokes fantasies and prompts surrogates to use intuition and emotion to respond outside the boundaries of clinical reality.

Instead, clinicians should ask questions that encourage surrogates to think deeply about the patient’s values, that make them weigh options and evaluate trade-offs.  For example: “What would your mom say about her serious illness?”  “What would your mom think about all this?”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.