Advance directives are known to present challenging ethical issues in health care practice, however there is a paucity of research paramedic perspectives. When a cardiac arrest occurs in the community, end of life provisions have often not been considered by patients or the patients are unable to communicate their wishes and these are not usually known to the attending paramedic crew. These factors contribute to an ethically complex decision-making environment. Ethical deliberation contributes to practitioners’ critical thinking skills and helps prepare them for decision-making under uncertainty. This research aims to highlight and explore underlying values present within practice-based decisions.
An exploratory, interpretive study, using the Values Exchange, a web-based ethical decision-making tool, explored eighteen urban-based New Zealand paramedics’ deliberative perspectives on an ethically controversial end of life scenario.
Thematic analysis of participants’ free text responses ascertained the breadth of views on advanced directives, with the emergence of three dominant themes; legal tensions, multiple constructs of dignity and seeking solutions that support clinical practice.
Findings revealed that when considering situations involving advance directives, participants regarded the duty to uphold patient dignity as paramount. There was a desire for greater legal guidance and a call for increased professional education in law and ethics. This study provides insight into New Zealand urban-based paramedics’ views and experiences of this ethically challenging aspect of patient care.
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