Persons with vulnerability: decision making and consent in health care

9th IACB (International Association of Catholic Bioethics) Colloquium

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Communication June 11, 2019

9th IACB (International Association of Catholic Bioethics) Colloquium, June 16-21, 2019, Monastère des Augustines, Québec City.

Canada Bioethicists discuss decision making and consent in health care involving persons with vulnerability.

Free and informed consent for health care is a standard that is well-established in Catholic teaching and in law and medicine around the world.

In practice it is not always possible or easy to attain, especially in health care involving persons with vulnerability. This gives rise to many ethical questions.

From June 16-20, 2019, 60 invited bioethicists and healthcare professionals will meet in Quebec City, Canada, to discuss some of these questions. For example: How can healthcare professionals and family caregivers respectfully support patients who have limited decision-making abilities to be as involved as possible in directing their own health care while addressing their risk of harm?

Participants in the colloquium will focus on “supported decision making” and its suitability for certain patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (e.g., Down syndrome or autism), progressive neuro-cognitive illnesses (e.g., Alzheimer disease), and compromised mental health including addictions.

Supported decision making is an alternative process to surrogate or substitute decision making for a person who requires assistance in making decisions. It is an approach that aligns with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, signed by 162 nations, which declares that all human beings have the right on an equal basis with others to make decisions about health care with support as needed.

The role of family caregivers in supporting decision making and ethical challenges specific to various life phases, including the end of life, will also be discussed.

Keynote presenters at the colloquium are Michael Bach and Bill Sullivan (Canada), Julian Hughes (UK), Sander Welie (Netherlands), Kay Wilhelm (Australia), and Marie-Jo Thiel (France). Participants will issue a consensus statement at the end of the colloquium, highlighting main conclusions and recommendations for health care practice and policy.

The colloquium is sponsored by national associations of the Order of Malta, a 900-year-old Catholic humanitarian organization which offers health care in many countries.