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Ethical Scenario 17
Your mother calls you and asks you to help with a major family decision. Your maternal grandfather is 70 years old and has been diagnosed with a condition that will kill him sometime in the next five years. He can have a procedure that will correct the disease and not leave him with any long-term problems, but the procedure has a a 10% mortality rate. He wants to have the procedure, but your mother does not want him to. How would you help mediate this issue?
Firstly, one should listen to both sides independently. Either party may have strong reasons for their opinion, and it may be that they haven’t shared this reason in their discussions with each other yet.
Next, one should gently probe the level of understanding both parties have of the procedure. Has your grandfather fully considered the mortality risk? Are there other potential risks from such a procedure, and has he considered these too? One would assume he has been deemed competent to be allowed the procedure, but make sure to consider his competence as well.
On the other side, has your mother considered your grandfather’s current quality of life? For him to make the decision to undergo this procedure, with associated risk, he is likely suffering at the moment. Equally, his life expectancy has been dramatically shortened - but with the procedure he will likely have a chance to live out a full old-age.
Ultimately, this is a question of autonomy. Your role is to check understanding, ensure that both parties are well-informed, and to hopefully promote an agreement over what route to take; but in the end it is your grandfather’s decision as the patient. Both you and your mother must respect the decision he makes.