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Academia and the Profession |

A Consensus-Based Approach To Providing Palliative Care to Patients Who Lack Decision-Making Capacity

Jason H.T. Karlawish, MD; Timothy Quill, MD; Diane E. Meier, MD, for the ACP-ASIM End-of-Life Care Consensus Panel
Ann Intern Med. 1999;130(10):835-840. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-130-10-199905180-00018
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Making palliative care decisions for a patient who lacks decision-making capacity presents several challenges. Other people, such as family and caregivers, must choose for the patient. The goals and values of these decision makers may conflict with those of each other and with those of the patient, who now lacks the capacity to participate in the decision. This paper presents a case study of a patient with severe Alzheimer disease who has two common clinical problems: neurogenic dysphagia and aspiration pneumonia. The case study describes a consensus-based decision-making strategy that keeps what is known about the patient's wishes and values in the foreground but also expects guidance from the physician and elicits input from family members and other people who care for and have knowledge about the patient. The steps of this process, including key clinical prompts and potential transition statements, are outlined and described. The overall goal of the case commentary is to demonstrate that physicians can guide a highly emotional and personal process in a structured manner that has meaning for the patient, family, physician, and other caregivers.

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