Ethical Challenges in the Care of the Inpatient with Morbid Obesity
Abstract

Objective: To provide a thorough analysis of the range of ethical concerns that may present in relation to the care of the morbidly obese inpatient over the course of several years of care. Methods: A narrative of the patient’s complex medical care is given, with particular attention to the recommendations of three separate ethics committee consultations that were sought by his health care providers. An ethical analysis of the relevant issues is given within the Principles of Biomedical Ethics framework, highlighting the principles of autonomy, beneficence, non–maleficence, and justice. Results: The case study presents a patient with morbid obesity, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, and numerous ICU admissions. The first ethics consultation was requested regarding the permissibility of forcing bariatric surgery on him against his will. The second consultation was regarding a request by nursing staff to no longer attempt to mobilize him. The third was regarding the patient’s refusal to be discharged. Conclusions and Recommendations: The care of inpatients with morbid obesity presents a unique set of practical and ethical challenges to health care personnel. A disciplined approach to ethical analysis using the Principles of Biomedical Ethics framework may be helpful in dealing with these challenges. Recommendations for improvement are made for the individual and local settings, as well as nationally.


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