Ethics Week 2011 Offers Food For Thought

Bermuda Hospitals Board’s Ethics Committee today invites the community to find out how each of us and our loved ones are impacted by ethical decisions relating to nutrition and feeding, and what we can do to ensure we are informed about the dietary decisions we make.

Information will be available in the lobbies of King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH) and Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute (MWI) from Monday 31 October to Friday 4 November 2011. Representatives from the Ethic Committee will be available to answer questions at both locations on Monday 31 October 2011 from 9.30am to 11am. The lobby displays will cover such issues as infant feeding, obesity and wellness, eating disorders, and feeding at the end of life.

“People may wonder what the ethics of nutrition has to do with them, but it impacts us from the moment we are born to the end of our lives,” says Chair of the Ethic Committee, Dr Elaine Campbell. “From an ethical perspective our message is simple. Whether you are considering feeding options for your baby, or deciding whether to have a feeding tube placed for your elderly mother as she nears the end of her life – support is available. Get educated about the pros and cons of all the options available. It is the duty of healthcare professionals to deliver unbiased, factual and non-judgmental information regarding feeding options. The BHB Ethics Committee is available at 291-HOPE if you need help working through your decision. Our goal is to provide the information and support you need to make an informed choice.”

The Ethics Committee is comprised of 20 members including clinical, administrative and community representatives. It offers consultations to patients, families and healthcare professionals when dealing with ethical issues around medical care. The theme of this year’s Ethic Week is “Food for Thought: The Ethics of Nutrition” and is being driven by the Ethics Education Sub-Committee, whose clinical members include Dr Chantelle Simmons, Chief of Psychiatry; Tony Ward, Dietitian; and Tom Raic, Occupational Therapist.

Dr Simmons chairs the Sub-Committee and comments: “The first ethical issue regarding nutrition is faced at the beginning of life. It is the decision made by parents or caregivers about how infants are fed. There is unanimous agreement that breastfeeding is the optimal method of feeding babies. However, we are aware that for a variety of reasons, many parents choose to feed their babies formula. One study revealed that nearly 50% of mothers who prepared powdered formula did not follow important guidelines to minimize infection and overconcentration risk. Thus, an ethical approach to patient education embodies the principles of autonomy, neutrality and informed consent. Health care providers should provide the clinical recommendation that breastfeeding is the optimal food choice for infants. However, for parents who choose to provide formula, it is important to provide adequate information in a sensitive and non-judgemental manner to minimize risks associated with bottle feeding. Thus, ethics plays a significant role in making decisions for those who are unable to voice their own desires, for example for infants or those near the end of life.”

Tony Ward notes: “There is a lot we can do proactively. Individuals can prepare Advance Directives when they are well that outline what their preferences are for end of life care, including feeding options. This ensures their wishes can be followed and gives families greater comfort that they are doing what their loved one would want. People also need to think through the decisions around food they make every day – for their families and themselves. There are significant health consequences associated with poor food choices including illness and premature death. This impacts the family wellbeing as well as increasing healthcare costs for the entire community. Registered dietitians are available on-island to provide factual information about diet from whom individuals can seek assistance if needed.”

Tom Raic, adds: “During Ethics Awareness Week 2011, we want to recognise the complexity of the decisions faced by people about diet and food every day and ensure that they are aware that healthcare professionals and the Ethics Committee are there to assist them work through the options in an unbiased, non-judgmental manner.”

The Ethics Committee can be contacted for a consultation by calling 291-HOPE and leaving your name and contact details.

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