L.H., an 84-yr-old man with end-stage COPD, is admitted to the
hospital in respiratory failure. He is intubated in the ED and placed
on a ventilator. L.H. sometimes responds by opening his eyes. His
advanced personal directive (AD) was drawn up 5 years ago, and
copies were given to his wife and HCP at that time. His wife brings
the documents to the critical care unit and tells you that the hospital
must stop treating her husband, and as per his request, allow him to
die. However, the patient’s oldest son is threatening the hospital with
a lawsuit if the staff does not provide full care to his father.
Ethical/Legal Points for Consideration
• A Living Will, one form of AD, permits persons to state their own
preferences and refusals should the person become terminally ill
or be in a situation in which there is no hope of recovery and the
person is not able to speak for themselves.
• The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, another form of
AD, permits persons to identify a proxy to make health care
decisions in the event the person is incapacitated.
• The National POLST Paradigm is an approach to end-of-life
planning that emphasizes documenting patients’ wishes about
the care they receive.
• AD laws vary from state to state concerning the need for
witnesses and designating the proxy.
• Some families are deeply divided about decisions for their loved
ones, and conflicts often arise when feelings of remorse or guilt
and money and/or property are involved. This situation requires
you to notify the HCP, engage social work and spiritual care, and
ask for a family conference. In some circumstances, a consult
from the ethics committee may be needed.
• HCPs are obligated to follow the patient’s ADs when a patient is
no longer able to speak for himself or herself.
• In your scope of nursing practice, you need to (1) be informed
about the decision-making laws and regulations in your state, (2)
make AD documents available to patients, (3) teach patients and
families about ADs, (4) determine if all involved HCPs are aware
of the ADs, (5) assist the patient and family in communicating
with the HCP when a “no code” or “DNR” (do not resuscitate)
order is requested, and (6) assist the conflicted family in
obtaining appropriate counseling when needed.
1. What should you do next with the information provided by
2. The HCP has asked that you organize a family conference. How
should you address the needs of each member of this family in
L.H.’s plan of care?
3. What resources can you use to facilitate decision making in this
4. What would be your approach to L.H.’s plan of care?
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