Dr. Fraser says, "In retrospect that was foolish. Ethicists, even those with real clinical backgrounds -- MDs, RNs -- can't presume to know enough about the intimate details of a situation to have final authority."
For patients grappling with their own mortality and/or the people who love them, these ethics teams can seem ominous. One of Kenneth's mentors pointed out early on that her main goal was to fight public perception that she and her team were angels of death. The ethicists are asked to weigh in on some seriously bummer prognoses. And most of the time it's because the patient isn't in a position to speak for himself: A six-year study Wasson led at Loyola University Medical Center found an overwhelming majority of ethical snags had to do with patients who were "waxing and waning," lucidity-wise.
Turns out when a patient requests another shot of rainbow juice you need someone there to say "no."
Kenneth saw this firsthand, in a patient whose entire body seemed to betray him immediately after heart surgery.
"His kidneys failed, and he was having either liver failure or hepatitis," Kenneth recalls. "He had bowel perforation and a bowel infection, along with the heart infection; he was septic. The big thing that was going on at the moment was his feet were maybe becoming gangrenous, or otherwise were just self-amputating. His toes were beginning to fall off."