CommunityOff the Charts

Nurses and aid in dying

By: Julie Cullen

By Julie Cullen, Managing Editor, American Nurse Today

Nurses can be incredibly helpful at the end of life. Helpful to patients, friends, and families. They comfort and explain and provide respite. But what is their role in situations where a patient with a terminal illness is choosing to end his or her life? The answer to that question is complicated because the rules are different (and in some cases not entirely clear) from state to state and from organization to organization.

Some hospitals and hospices have policies that say nurses can’t discuss end of life options at all. Others say that nurses can’t witness a patient self-administering the medications to end life. However, some question what “witness” means. Liz Stokes, director of the American Nurses Association (ANA) Center for Ethics and Human Rights, says that they’ve received calls from nurses asking if they can be in the room and just cover their eyes to avoid “witnessing.”

As the number of states with aid in dying laws reaches nine this September (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, plus the District of Columbia), the ANA issued a position statement on the nurse’s role in these circumstances. In the statement, the association emphasizes that nurses have the right not to be present if they have a moral or religious objection. It also defines words such as “participation” and “presence” in an effort to encourage hospitals and hospices to be clearer.

Having nurses or other healthcare professionals in the room when a patient takes advantage of his or her state’s aid in dying law can be reassuring. They can answer questions, provide comfort care if it’s needed, and ease the patient and family through the transition.

Source: New York Times


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