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Medical Ethics


Health care ethics (a.k.a “clinical ethics” or "medical ethics") is the application of the core principles of bioethics (autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice) to medical and health care decisions. It is a multidisciplinary lens through which to view complex issues and make recommendations regarding a course of action.

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Decision-Making Capacity

Decision-making capacity is a clinical assessment regarding an individual’s ability to make informed decisions about their care. Decisional capacity is directly linked to informed consent and is decision dependent.

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Right to Refuse

Every adult, even those who lack decision-making capacity, has the right to refuse treatment. There are some circumstances where an individual’s right of refusal may be overridden by the health care team.

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Withholding & Withdrawing Treatment

There is no moral, ethical or legal difference between deciding not to start a life-sustaining treatment and deciding to stop that treatment after it has been started. Any treatment that is not benefiting a person or is no longer achieving a desired goal can be stopped.

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Medical Aid in Dying (MAID)

Vermont is now one of several states that permits a terminally ill, capable adult to request and obtain a lethal prescription for medication to self-administer for the purpose of hastening their own death.

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Rural Health Care Ethics

Rural health care ethics focuses on health care ethics uncertainty or conflicts occurring in the distinct context of the rural setting. What makes rural health care ethics different is how the rural environment influences both the presentation and the response to ethics conflicts.

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Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking

Sometimes despite a physician’s best efforts to address the sources of the patient’s suffering, a satisfactory solution cannot be found. For these patients, as well as those with advanced illness, Voluntary Stopping of Eating and Drinking (VSED) may be an option.

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Honoring Do Not Spoon Feed Requests

An exploration of the ethical and legal issues associated with honoring requests to stop eating and drinking in an advance directive (“SED by AD”) as a potential end-of-life strategy.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to more questions about health care ethics can be found here.

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COVID-19: Ethics Considerations & Resources

A compilation of ethics considerations, supportive guidance, and resources for community members, health care providers, and facilities.

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