Kansas and Missouri Professional Licensing Attorney Discusses Ethics Involving Life-Sustaining Treatment

Occasionally, physicians are called upon to make a difficult decision whether to administer life-sustaining treatment to a patient.  Physicians have an obligation to preserve life, to respect life, and to do everything in their power to protect the fragility of the human condition. Equally compelling is the patient’s right to make decisions regarding their healthcare. The patient has an absolute right to autonomy in the decisions that affect their health, even if it results in death. The doctor has the duty, however, to render an accurate medical opinion so that the patient can make an informed decision. If the patient’s choice is made because of a misdiagnosis or prognosis, then the doctor makes could face claims of malpractice. Similarly, if the patient’s family and physicians disagree about life-sustaining treatment, the dispute can lead to allegations of misconduct. The doctor may face charges of incompetence before a state board of medical arts as a result of the opinion. Kansas and Missouri professional licensing attorney Danielle Sanger understands the difficulty of the situation and will fight to protect you and your livelihood from adverse licensing consequences.

In the situation wherein the physician and patient disagree about treatment, the physician must defer to the patient or the patient’s healthcare decision maker such as a health care proxy or guardian.  The physician must comply with a court order if one exists. Accordingly, if the patient wishes to receive artificial ventilation, a feeding tube, or forced hydration, then the doctor may do so with the patient’s or the patient’s proxy consent.

The patient’s decision is valid to the extent that the physician’s opinion is correct or accurate. Physicians must give proper medical advice to their patients. The doctor must base an opinion of the current standard of care in the medical community. Additionally, the physician must properly advise the patient of his or her treatment options. Failing that, the doctor has rendered incompetent medical advice and may face discipline before the board of healing arts.

Additional concerns arise when the patient is unable to make a decision regarding the patient’s health care. The family of the patient may wish to see the patient slip away without the obtrusive life-sustaining equipment. The physician, however, sits in a different posture. The physician cannot accede to the family’s wishes. The physician has an obligation to keep the patient alive by all means necessary unless and until a court intervenes and orders a contrary course of action. In that case, the physician may ethically act because the court is making a decision as though the patient was making a choice. Furthermore, the physician can face contempt of court charges for refusing to obey the court’s order and face licensing discipline because being found in contempt may indicate a lack of fitness to practice medicine.

The American Medical Association (AMA) counsels doctors to respect the dignity of the patient’s life, the patient’s right to privacy and their right to autonomy.  The AMA recommends that physicians counsel their patients to execute legally enforceable documents such as advanced directives, health care proxies, and living wills to guide the physician and the patient’s family. Knowing the patient’s preference before the decision must be made will ease the burden on a grieving family who may be too distraught to make an informed decision and the physician who can act in accordance with his or her patient’s wishes.  Treating patients in this manner can avoid needless legal battles after the loved one has passed away.

Physicians Should Seek Legal Advice If They Are Under Investigation For Misconduct

If you receive notice that you are facing discipline before the Kansas Board of Healing Arts or the Missouri Board of Healing Arts resulting from a decision relating to life-sustaining treatment, or any other allegation of unethical conduct, call Kansas and Missouri Professional Licensing Attorney Danielle Sanger immediately. Attorney Sanger has vast experience defending physicians against licensing discipline. Call Attorney Sanger today at 785-979-4353 to discuss your options.