"Broken Covenant": Healthcare Aides' "Experience of the Ethical" in Caring for Dying Seniors in a Personal Care Home
Chochinov, Harvey Max
The Journal of clinical ethics 2010 Fall; 21(3): 201-11
Canada's population is aging, and seniors constitute the fastest growing demographic in the nation. The chronic health conditions, limited social support, functional decline, and cognitive impairment experienced by seniors may necessitate admission to a personal care home (PCH) setting up until the time of their death. The ethical problems that arise in the care of dying patients are numerous and complicated. The care of dying seniors in PCHs, however, is largely provided by frontline workers such as healthcare aides (HCAs), who usually have little training in palliative care or ethics. Research examining the identification and resolution of ethical problems in care of the dying has been conducted from the perspectives of nurses and physicians in various clinical settings, but the voice of HCAs in PCHs is virtually absent from clinical ethics. Given that the inability to satisfactorily resolve ethical issues in clinical practice is associated with feelings of guilt, powerlessness, avoiding contact with patients, failing to provide good physical care, and increased staff turnover, an empirical examination of HCAs' experiences of ethically challenging situations is warranted. We conducted a phenomenological study to access the lived experience of HCAs (N = 12) working in proprietary and nonproprietary care homes as they encountered situations they deemed ethically challenging in providing end-of-life care to dying seniors. The findings reported here explicate: (1) the types of situations that are ethically problematic for HCAs; (2) the meanings they assign to these situations, and (3) the impact such situations have on the provision of end-of-life care.
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